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Hangin’ With Klecko: John Lupo

Next year, 2020, will be special for me. It will mark my 40th year in the baking industry. Recently, when I was flaunting this feat, a friend asked if I was the state’s longest tenured baker.

I had to confess, there was one other, my boss, John Lupo.

More than 41 years ago, John opened a Mr. Donut in St. Paul, eventually expanding his product line and opening Grandma’s Bakery. Over the years I have been fortunate to work with, and for, many great bakers, but truth be told, Lupo is the smartest of them all.

In addition to running a business that produces more than $5 million of product annually, John is also the national president of the Retail Bakers of America.

Our state is beyond blessed to have his services. In my opinion, he is more than an icon, he’s our guild’s godfather.

Klecko: Tell me about growing up in New York.

Lupo: I was born and raised in NYC, I grew up a big Yankees fan, in a big Italian family. We had fresh pastry every meal.

Klecko: I noticed at the Twins game, you wore a Twins hat instead of a Yankees. What’s up with that?

Lupo: Yeah, (a long pause denoting consideration) I guess I’m more of a Twins fan today, but I still love the Yankees.

Klecko: I know you have a daughter in the Big Apple, and you return frequently to visit her and her family. How has Gotham changed over the years?

Lupo: The food scene is great, but it always has been. There’s a lot of beer halls opening, too, but a lot of the mainstays are going out of business. I’m not sure why. 

Klecko: 41 years…..?

Lupo: Yeah, right? It’s been a great run, but what’s the saying? It’s a marathon, not a sprint. I love it today, as much as I did when I was a kid, maybe more.

Klecko: You’ve gone from an Eastside donut maker to president of the Retail Bakers of America. That has to be rewarding, and humbling at the same time, right?

Lupo: I’ve met so many nice people on the way, many of them taught me what they knew. You don’t get to take on positions like this without the help of friends and family.

Klecko: On a serious note, is it-= an added responsibility, when your status is raised from hustling entrepreneur to baking godfather? 

Lupo: I haven’t thought of it like that, but I do know I hate watching people reinvent the wheel. I’ve made every mistake, and I’ve paid for each and every one of them. If I can help others avoid   pitfalls, I’m happy to.

Klecko: You have as many products as any bakery I have ever seen. My favorite is your toffee cookie. What’s yours?

Lupo: That toffee cookie was actually the first formula I developed myself. Boston cream Bismarck is my favorite.

Klecko: A lot of hospitality people are complaining that there aren’t enough workers to staff all the concepts anymore. What are your thoughts on the topic?

Lupo: As bakers, we have to figure out how to be better business people—better on the business side. I think too often people put their focus on attracting employees. That’s fine, but it’s important to make sure you also consider what you are going to do to retain those employees.

Klecko: Was your first job in hospitality?

Lupo: I worked six years as a busboy at the Bridgeman’s on 494 & Hwy 100. I went from busboy to manager. I had so much fun there. My best friend today is a guy I met there on my first day. In fact, his birthday is tomorrow. You’re bringing me down memory lane. Man, working those summer nights ‘til two or three in the morning. We thought it was the best place you could be. Besides my father, my manager at Bridgeman’s, Joe Hoffman, was a mentor to me.

Klecko: What about your next 41 years in the biz, how do you see them panning out?

Lupo: (laughing) I actually do hope to retire someday. And when that happens, I would like to stay active in the baking associations. I enjoy presenting seminars and speaking. I’m pretty sure I will remain connected to baking until I die.

Klecko: I know you are preparing to head down to Vegas for the I.B.I.E. (International Baking Industry Exposition) Show. 

Lupo: That’s right. It’s our biggest baking trade show. There will be more than 30,000 attendees from around the world. The R.B.A. is in charge of running the educational seminars for five days. This year’s show is going to be huge, they’ve never had a show of this caliber.

Klecko: Yeah, and you’re giving a speech, right, won’t you get a little nervous?

Lupo: No, not at all. I’m going to walk into a room filled with 300 people. I’ll probably know 299 of them, so it won’t be a big deal. There’s no reason to get nervous when you’re amongst friends, and there’s a lot of friends flying in for this show.

Klecko: What are you going to talk about?

Lupo: My presentation is titled “Tips, Tricks, Gadgets and Facts.” There’s so many ways to make, and lose money today. I want to talk about this with other bakers.

Klecko: The Yankees are pretty banged up with injuries. Do they have a chance to go deep into the post season, maybe make it to the World Series?

Lupo: Let me tell you something you should already know…You can NEVER count the Yankees out.

Until next time…. 

Dan “Klecko” McGleno can be reached at kleckobread@gmail.com or 651-329-4321.

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