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Hangin’ With Klecko: An Interview with Baker Joe Dark

It’s not often I tell young people how to go about their business. Truth be told, each of us have to work out our own route, but recently it occurred to me that my success in the baking industry wasn’t by chance. I was educated by bright instructors who showed me a surefire way to succeed. All I had to do … was do what they said.

The main reason this topic has surfaced in my thoughts recently is because I have been lucky enough to work with a young man named Joe Dark. 

Joe recently graduated from St. Paul College with a culinary degree and now he serves as a utility manager at Grandma’s Bakery, floating from one department to the next, fixing problems and filling in for department heads on their days off.

Klecko: “What’s new in your world today, Joe?”

Dark: “I’m not sure if you’re Facebook friends with Manfred Krug, (Joe’s instructor at St. Paul College) but yesterday he posted an open letter to chefs asking them to stop encouraging his students to drop out of school to replace their education with on-the-job training.”

Klecko: “I imagine that started a heated debate. Did the post go viral?”

Dark: “A bit, tons of chefs supported him on his post. You went to cooking school, right?”

Klecko: “Actually I went to baking school at Dunwoody. That was years ago when if you worked while you went to school, you could pay off your debt by graduation day, it’s not like that anymore, huh?”

Dark: “I looked at several options and felt St. Paul College was the most reasonable. They have a program called The Power of You that helps people get in that might have trouble qualifying financially, so I am grateful. I’m sitting in a pretty good position, thanks to them.”

Klecko: “What’s the most important thing you learned there?”

Dark: “Not to be nervous. Whenever you get an opportunity you need to say ‘yes’ and move forward. By doing that, you’re going to become more comfortable in the kitchen. Managing people was discussed in depth, too. We were reminded that we’d make more money in the industry if we thought like mangers instead of line workers.”

Klecko: “I’ve noticed you’re an organized cat, Joe. Did you learn that in your management course, or were always like that?”

Dark: “Yeah, I would consider myself an organized person, but in class they taught us a lot about hiring, cost control and the importance of seeing the unseen.”

Klecko: “Not that it’s any of my business, but is anyone in your family in the hospitality business?”

Joe paused at this question, considered and smiled while explaining:

“I am Native American and active in the Mohican community. I live in Minneapolis, but my family likes to spend time on the rez, we mostly go for ceremonies and pow wows. At the last pow wow I went to, after somebody mentioned I was working in a bakery, I was told that my grandmother used to be the baker on the reservation.”

Klecko: “It would be interesting to see her recipes. I’ve never worked with indigenous recipes, have you?”

Dark: “Not so much, I should probably mention that I’m also part French. Most of the ingredients I’ve worked with have been European, but recently I’ve been inspired by Sean Sherman. He came out with a book of indigenous recipes. I think most of them are Sioux, but the book made a big impact. He won a James Beard Award for it.

“I’ve looked at recipes. Ingredients are expensive, bison, pheasant and wild rice.”

Klecko: “Do indigenous meals cost more?”

Dark: “Nah, that’s not what I meant. I’m just saying when you live alone and have to pay for school, an apartment and a car, all food is expensive.”

Klecko: “How many jobs in hospitality have you had?”

Dark: “About a half dozen. I’ve worked wholesale, retail and grocery. I wanted a well-rounded view of the industry. One of the nice things about going to St. Paul College is our instructors are networked. If we work hard they’ll put us where we want to go, but also, something that’s turned out great is that me and the other students have stayed in touch, and many of us are already planning projects together.”

Klecko: “If you were cooking at school, why did you end up coming to Grandma’s Bakery?”

Dark: “I already have a history in baking, I just wanted to get good instruction. I got that at St. Paul College. I’ve always enjoyed being given tasks that I’ve had to study up on before heading to work. Toward the end of school I began researching pineapple-upside-down cakes and it occurred to me Grandma’s Bakery would be a great fit because John Lupo (the owner) is a certified master baker. That intrigued me.”

Klecko: “Has Lupo been schooling you?”

Dark: “Actually he has, but in a very short time I began to find out how much there is to running a business. Mr. Lupo has to spend lots of time dealing with corporations and accounts. But even so, he’s been generous, finding time to teach me his systems. Systems he’s be tweaking for 40 years.”

Klecko: “Since you are the future, Joe, where do you think you will be in 10 years?

Dark: “If I’m not here, chances are I will be in California, or someplace warmer.”

In closing, I want to note that even though I think St. Paul College is the best in the business, this column isn’t meant to be a commercial for them as much as it is a reminder that you are the greatest resource you have.

You are worth investing in. Joe Dark has, and mark my words, this young man is going to be a big deal for a long time.


Until next time,

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