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Rustica Owner Capitalizes on Cookies, Expands Brand With Spinoff at MOA




Head chef Ben Spangler (left) and owner Greg Hoyt are bringing the Rustica brand to Mall of America with their new concept, Rustica Cookies and Creamery.

Rustica cookies, meet ice cream.

“It’s a partnership of the two great sweets,” says Ben Spangler, describing Rustica Cookies and Creamery, the new concept from Rustica Bakery of which he’s head chef and chief soft serve flavor developer. 

Spangler spent six months crafting ice creams such as Get Lucky—“Kids love the blue, it tastes like Lucky Charms”—as he and Rustica Bakery owner Greg Hoyt prepared to launch the first Cookies and Creamery location at Mall of America. The spinoff, which opened in mid-December in the mall’s newer north wing, represents the next chapter for Rustica, one Hoyt expects will also bring another bakery or two to the Twin Cities along with the expansion of the Cookies and Creamery brand.

What that chapter won’t have is growth just for growth’s sake.   

“I bought Rustica in 2015 thinking more of maintaining stewardship of the legacy that Steve had created,” says Hoyt, referring to Steve Horton, the master baker who founded acclaimed Rustica Bakery in Minneapolis in 2004. Hoyt and Horton have been friends for 20-some years, since they both worked at Caribou Coffee. “It took about a year to understand what we could do without compromising what Steve had created and that’s a guiding principle of our growth. Steve, he’s a treasure.”

Though perhaps best known for its baguettes, Hoyt discovered during his review of the business over the summer that Rustica Bakery was selling more cookies than anything else. In those numbers he saw opportunity and initially talked with Spangler about a cookie-focused concept.

Rustica originals, including the famous bittersweet chocolate cookie, join specialty cookies such as blueberry lemon, birthday cake and Minnesota shortbread.

“But,” says Hoyt, “then Ben said, ‘you should see what I can do with ice cream.’”

Before coming to Rustica, Spangler helped create specialty ice cream recipes for Sameh Wadi’s popular Milkjam Creamery; he also led the pastry team at downtown Minneapolis restaurant Zelo. 

“I always take a moment to think, how can I make people happy,” says Spangler of his flavor formation process,.He’s taking into account the wide cross section of people coming to the mall versus Rustica’s flagship shop in Calhoun Village. “It’s not about me being cool, but creating something approachable but fun.” 

How do you make vanilla more fun? Add gold. 

“I came up with this sauce, it’s called 24K Gold,” says Spangler. “It’s an orange cream gel that tastes like a dreamsicle with gold leaf flakes.” There are no artificial flavorings or ingredients, and the enthusiastic Spangler is always thinking of new, seasonal options, such as a sundae with mushrooms and dark chocolate. 

“But it’s a mushroom that tastes like maple syrup,” he adds, seeing my reaction. “It’s not just a flavor. That sundae is like a captured moment of being outside.”

But to run a successful foodservice business at the competitive MOA—or to even be considered for a spot—means bringing more than fun to table, as Hoyt knows. He says he got to know Rustica “inside out” before even considering expansion, and only then it was with guidance from Rustica business partner Jonathan Chong, who since 2012 has operated a Chatime Tea franchise at the mall.

“[Jonathan] is a valued tenant and has the credibility with the mall, so he brought the opportunity to them,” says Hoyt. 

And while originally no food and beverage was planned for that section of the mall, “They saw us as being a lifestyle brand that fits in. What we’re doing is a complement to Zara, to Toms,” says Hoyt, referencing two major fashion retailers that also opened stores in the new wing.

Get Lucky, a specialty soft serve flavor at Rustica Cookies and Creamery that tastes like Lucky Charms cereal.

Heather Brechbill Swilley, VP of leasing at MOA, says it was the “elevated and sophisticated offerings” of Rustica that appealed to mall officials, along with its strong local reputation.

“It’s such a wonderful, iconic brand locally,” says Swilley. “For us, it was a no-brainer.”

Hoyt signed a 10-year lease at MOA, and while he notes the high rent means “we’re going to need to sell a lot of cookies,” the mall’s even higher traffic also means exposing another 40 million people to the Rustica brand each year. And if all goes well, Swilley says Triple Five Group, which owns MOA, could see Cookies and Creamery locations fitting in at its American Dream malls in New Jersey and Miami.

Hoyt calls Rustica Cookies and Creamery a “natural next step for the brand,” and with its smaller, 500-square-foot footprint versus a full production bakery, it offers flexibility to consider smaller, non-traditional locations. 

Though one new project would likely be enough for most business owners, not so for Hoyt, who as he was working to open Rustica Cookies and Creamery was presented with an opportunity to add another Rustica Bakery and Café. 

“It’s one we couldn’t pass up,” says Hoyt of the new location in Eden Prairie’s Smith-Douglas-More House. Ann Schuster, who operated a Dunn Bros. there for 10 years, decided not to renew her franchise agreement and instead partnered with Hoyt to bring Rustica to the location. 

Hoyt also announced in January that a Rustica Bakery would move into the space being vacated by Lunds & Byerlys Kitchen, the prototype grocery store and restaurant launched two years ago in Wayzata’s Promenade development. And if that isn’t enough, Hoyt’s other business—yes, he is also the owner of Dogwood Coffee—is expanding in Canada with the opening of a roasting facility and training lab in Winnepeg. In that venture he has three partners who own 51 percent of Dogwood-Canada.

Where does Hoyt find the energy? Lucky for him he has direct access to plenty of cookies, ice cream and coffee. 

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