A co-worker and I have just celebrated Pi Day 2019 by getting pies from Sarah Jane’s Bakery and eating lunch at neighboring Parkway Pizza. I’m doing my best to drive quickly but cautiously back to the office. I miss almost all of the potholes on 29th, but the one I don’t miss feels like it could’ve cleaved one of my shoddy aluminum rims (it didn’t, thankfully).
It’s raining and chilly outside, an almost perfect image of what Minnesotans complaint about when we talk about weather in March. The only way it gets worse is by saying the S-word (you know which S-word). We’d return to the office and swear we’d eaten too much pizza. There’s no way we could try any pie, but we should at least open them up and admire them.
They are a sight to behold, indeed. My pecan pie appears perfectly level and perfectly intact, like an art piece. Her Dutch apple pie looks a little closer to what you might see in a cookbook, hints of apple visible through a crumbly crust. But there was no way we were touching our pies, no way. Well, maybe a taste. Fine, a little slice.
I can only speak for myself at this point, but I would eat two slices that afternoon and my whole pie would be gone in less than 48 hours.
I found Sarah Jane’s Bakery that day via Google, and that’s not too different from how current co-owner Stephanie Botzet first found it. It turns out she was browsing Craigslist, and found what appeared to be a bakery for sale.
“There was just an ad that said, ‘Looking for a baker who would potentially want to own a bakery,’” Botzet recalls. “It was very vague.”
That was late summer, 2015. Botzet and her mother, Audry, had been baking since their childhoods to this point. Audry grew up in Alexandria; Stephanie grew up in St. Louis Park. Audry responded to the ad in October, and the wheels got rolling quickly. In November, Stephanie started working with the owners to get familiar and ease the transition; and on February 8, 2016, the Botzets officially took over.
“It was fast, but kind of slow at the same time,” says Botzet.
When I ask Botzet about memories from her early days baking, she first brings up a memory based on a photograph. She’s standing on a stool, she says, with a hole in her sock and a beater in her hand. She also brings up big baking days around Christmastime with the family, I’m talking tables and counters just covered in baked goods.
For the Botzets, baking with family is just how it’s done. Stephanie recalls baking kolaches with her grandmother. She says several of the recipes used at Sarah Jane’s Bakery today were taken from Grandma’s cookbooks.
“I think she would be very impressed,” she says.
The crispy crunchy cookies are Grandma’s recipes, and Botzet says they’re one of her favorites. They’re, addictive, delicious, and small – which means you can binge-eat them with your morning coffee, your evening movie, or your late-night video gaming session. The banana bread is another one of Grandma’s recipes, a simple kind that doesn’t lean on chocolate chips or nuts.
A wide array of cookies, bars, pies, hit the shelves at Sarah Jane’s Bakery before the shop opens up at 5 a.m. They’ve got snoopy bars, something called a chocolate dream. Cheesecake was brought in by the Botzets. The donut recipes went unchanged during the ownership transition.
“When we came in, we had plans to downside a lot,” says Botzet, “but everyone has their favorite things, and there wasn’t anything we could really cut out completely. It took a while, but I think we’re in a good groove now.”
When I meet Botzet for the first time, it’s 8 p.m. on a Monday. We meet a second time, at 5 a.m. on a Thursday. One of these was at the start of her shift – I showed up a couple of minutes before she did and had to wait for her to unlock the front door – and the other was toward the end.
Knowing what we know about bakers, I think you can discern which is which.
“My goal is to always be done by 6 a.m.,” she says. “Usually I go home and sleep, and then I take a nap in the afternoon before I come.”
The commonality between these two meetings is my leaving with donuts. After our first meeting, I arrive home at 9 p.m. on a Monday and enjoy a chocolate cake donut with a pint of beer (exquisite pairing, if you’re wondering). After our second meeting, I get to the office around 6 a.m. on a Thursday and promptly begin emptying a box of raised donuts. One co-worker and I take down five donuts and three crispy crunchy cookies between us.
The Internet doesn’t offer much help to those wanting the full history of Sarah Jane’s Bakery. What is known: the bakery is 40 years old this year, and is a local treasure to those in the Audubon Park neighborhood. Today, the bakery is accompanied at the Johnson St./29th Ave. intersection by Hazel’s Northeast, a vintage clothing shop, and the newsroom of the Northeaster.
The Botzet family is working right alongside Stephanie and Audry at Sarah Jane’s: Stephanie’s father, Joe, handles the books and her sisters manage the front of the house and the website. Stephanie says there aren’t plans to expand anytime soon, but Sarah Jane’s has instead expanded their footprint through collaboration with local businesses. They provide the desserts for Market BBQ and collaborating with Broken Clock Brewing Cooperative on a Dutch apple pie beer.
“For the most part, we’ve been well-received,” she says. “As we’ve gotten comfortable doing things our way, we’ve been getting a lot of good feedback.”