John Kraus and Elizabeth Rose, the team behind Rose Street Patisserie, are expanding their already sizable baking empire
Photos by Darin Kamnetz
When John Kraus sips a mid-morning cortado and says, “I’ve been looking forward to this all day,” he means it. Being the mind and hands behind a growing network of Twin Cities institutions known for life-changing bread, pastries, ice cream, and confections means being willing to start work in the days’ opening minutes.
For Kraus and his partner in life and business, Elizabeth Rose, 2018 was a year filled with impossibly early mornings. The pair sit at a table in their gleaming, new Rose Street Patisserie café, which replaced a Starbucks on Snelling and Selby Avenues in St. Paul. Last fall, they also opened a Rose Street stall inside Keg and Case Market on West Seventh, along with MN Slice pizza. These three new establishments join Patisserie 46 and the original Rose Street—located east and west of Lake Harriet, respectively, in south Minneapolis—plus an already thriving wholesale business.
“Building things is never easy,” says Rose, the branding and marketing mind of their operation. “There’s this element of ‘Oh my god, what did we do?’ But you get to that opening day and all of that pain and challenge that you felt is washed away.”
“As soon as you open the doors, you see people smiling,” Kraus adds. “This one has been really quite beautiful in that regard.”
A true patisserie is a French-style bakery led by a rigorously trained chef, such as Kraus. He’s the only American-born member of Relais Desserts, an international cadre of elite pastry chefs. A Rose Street chocolate melting on your tongue proves the “authentically French minus the airfare” tagline isn’t just hype. As Kraus and Rose have expanded, they’ve insisted upon consistent quality for these tangible, edible luxuries. In other words, you never sell a day-old croissant.
Sweets behind the counter at Rose Street Patisserie
Their next project is a “very bread-centric” Rose Street Patisserie, featuring a production kitchen—not only to bake more for wholesale clients, but to train more bakers. Beyond an award-laden résumé and an expanding retail presence is Kraus’ desire to inspire a new generation of apprentices.
“Most businesses won’t hire someone fresh out of school at a living wage,” says Kraus, who was an educator in Chicago for nearly a decade. “Our plan is: Why not train them to do exactly what we do? This is very special. It’s all passed down with your hands. It’s all tactile feel. Our people know how to do this so well because every day, they know there’s a chance they’re going to work at midnight. So many times, you get these kids that want to be a baker. I’ll say, ‘Meet me here at 1:30.’”
“In the afternoon?” Rose interjects, laughing.
“That’s what we do,” he continues. “It’s not what magically appears on the counter.”
Ideally, Kraus says they’d grow more slowly, but years of overtures from developer Craig Cohen (“He stalked us,” Rose says) got them to this point. A while back, Cohen took him on a tour of a building he had recently acquired. It was the old Schmidt Brewery’s Rathskeller building across the street from his other recent acquisition, the space that became Keg and Case Market.
“We go down to the basement, and I was like, ‘This is the coolest spot in the entire Twin Cities. Can I do anything down here? Probably not,’” Kraus recalls. “I can see people eating pretzels being delivered on sticks and drinking beer. Good luck.”
But then Cohen brought him upstairs to an expansive room that opens onto a plaza surrounded by the smokestack-topped buildings that became the Schmidt Artist Lofts in 2014. “Where are we going with all of this?” Kraus continues. “He goes, ‘You can put your production facility right here.’”
They had a deal. Construction is expected to wrap in early spring—the oven was shipped from overseas in November. Along with another full-service Rose Street café, the space will feature windows that showcase the chefs and apprentices at work. And yes, they’ll be making the pretzels.
“You can make a great living,” Kraus says. “I traveled the world because I was a pastry chef. I may be atypical, but there are others out there flying on their own planes, comfortable in their living. The trade is not something to overlook. That’s our goal with the Rathskeller. To give people the opportunity, should they want it, to make this their life.”
Dig In: Quick Questions with John and Elizabeth
The Rose Street team on early mornings, elite pastry-dom, and why neighborhood bakeries matter in 2019.
Was “doing interviews” part of your plan when you got into this line of work?
John Kraus: No. I always liked being in the back. But I think it’s fascinating what we actually do. From restaurants to bakeries to ice cream shops. These are people who are putting literally everything they have on the line every single—emotionally, physically—so someone can tell them they suck. You know what I mean?
Elizabeth Rose: Which I think speaks to a larger conversation in our industry that not as many people are talking about.
JK: There’s the depression, and the abuse you might take from one single Yelp review. I stopped reading them because I was like, “You know what, meet me at 2 in the morning, and do it.” I would never, in a million years, walk into someone’s establishment for their hard-earned money, their little kids who can’t buy shoes that month because money was low, and say “Ooh, you know what, your handwriting is pretty s****y.” Well guess what, these are living breathing creatures that occasionally have an off day or make a mistake. We make mistakes every day. That becomes really challenging. You want to be your best. Quite frankly, I’ve never met a chef that makes sauce and meatballs as good as my mother’s. Ever. She might make it for one of them and they might go “Hmm, that’s crap.” I hope they don’t, because she’ll cut ‘em.
What drives you to get up and work so early every morning?
JK: All I want to do is literally make the best chocolate chip cookie I can. So that the person who gets that chocolate chip cookie, if they like it, they love it. It creates a memory for them for the rest of their lives and they always seek that one chocolate chip cookie. Or a baguette, or a cannoli, or a meatball with sauce that tastes pretty close to my mom’s. Is that an experience that I want to have? Absolutely. Is that experience more valuable to me than $4? That’s all we want to do for people. It’s why I always love going out to restaurants. Because I just want to forget. Not that life is bad. I want to transcend a moment and just have a great half hour to three hours where it’s like I’m nowhere. What’s in front of me is here. I have a great partner with me. Could be a hot dog at a ballpark. All of this makes memories for your whole life. That’s more valuable than anything. Because you never get it back. Like sitting on a hill with a ham-and-cheese baguette.
ER: Being the business end of things, when you work in branding and marketing, you have to create a story. When I started working with John, there was so much authenticity there and such a passion and excitement that I didn’t have to create a story. I just had to take it and put it out there. For me, makes my job easy. The passion behind his product, his team, the consumers that come in every day. That existed. Creating a Rose Street around it. How do we package it in a way that delivers exactly what you’re looking for? He didn’t come to me and say, “I need my name in lights.” None of this is about any of that. Hence, why I’m fighting tooth and nail to drag him to come and do press interviews. I want him to tell these parts of the story because I’ll never be able to tell them as well as he does. It’s an honor to promote that essence of what he’s looking to do every single day and to make sure it’s extended forward through his teams.
JK: They’re all employees of the month. They’re all great.
Why is a neighborhood bakery important in 2019?
JK: For me, I wanted to see was a kid leaving with a baguette and walking home to his mom or dad waiting for the baguette for dinner. We see it all the time at 46. They wander in with $6 to get a baguette, and they want a cookie. And then they scamper home. It’s not just the place that you’re getting your rolls and you leave. You have a cup of coffee, buy bar of chocolate. It’s yours. It enhances the neighborhood.
ER: We’re richer for it because we get to interact with these people and become a part of their lives.
JK: I grew up in a small town [Paducah, Kentucky] and there was a bakery on the corner called Blackhawk Bakery that made the best dinner rolls. All the kids would be there. They’d give you a cookie and fry your Blackhawk buns and dinner rolls. There was a neighborhood thing in today’s day and age we’re losing it. We have a 14-year-old and a 10-year-old, and you think twice about sending them out to the grocery store. Now, all of a sudden these grocery bags show up on someone’s front porch. It’s almost like Brave New World. You see the door open the bag goes into the house. It’s like, “Wait a minute, I want to go to the local butcher, I want to go to the baker.” I need that interaction.
ER: Sometimes the squirrels attack the grocery bags because the people forgot them.
JK: It’s hysterical. You feel bad for the people, but not the squirrels. It’s much more about a human interaction than anything else. I think we’re going to start to create that. If you look around, there’s one computer open. All of our shops it’s the same. People come and they actually talk to one another.
What is it like being a part of the Relais Desserts organization?
ER: You want to talk about standing naked in front of a group of the top tier in the industry and letting them say, “That was great” or “Maybe not.” It’s a little terrifying.
JK: However, when they critique something and it isn’t up to snuff, you know they’re going to show up at 2 a.m. and do it with you. You take that and say, “Okay, I’ll make it better.” That’s what’s been really beautiful about this organization we’re a part of is that you’re working with people like Pierre Hermé. If ever there were the greatest composer of pastry, it’s that guy. He’ll sit there with us and shake up bottles of wine and eat and drink and talk—and it might not even be about pastry. If you do get the chance to get into his brain, and find out about certain things, you’ll find out that there’s a farmer in Italy that makes 17 bushels of lemons a year for him. Just for him. That’s someone who cares about the finest minute details. “One more minute of toasting and you’re there.” You believe in him because he literally wakes up every single day and changes the world of pastry. This is someone who is literally the best in the game, but isn’t afraid to share something because it’s for everybody. If we don’t share, the art dies.
What’s one of your goals for 2019?
JK: We want our talented team making chocolates to get more recognition. I think they’re spectacular. They’re totally different than what everyone else sees. Next year I want it to be the year of the confections. To hit that pretty hard. Every Easter we make an Easter bunny. It costs more because of the ingredients and labor. You go to Wallgreens, and there’s the Russell Stover for $4. It’s shifting the mindset. This is a high-quality cocoa bean that may not exist in 50 years. We’re making progress. I’m an atypical consumer. I’d rather introduce my kids to a chocolate from Haiti or Cuba or Hawaii. The only American chocolate is made in Hawaii.
ER: We’ll go out to dinner and the little one will push the bread away and be like “No, not so good.” I’ll be like, “We can talk about it in the car.” He knows what good bread is. Sometimes when they send out a little chocolate at the end of the meal, and he’s like, “Seriously?”
JK: We’re teaching them to be gracious. But they do have some severe taste buds. The older one was eating octopus at five years old.
ER: Chef’s kids are really fascinating. They’ve had such exposure to things that I’ve never had exposure to as a child.
JK: They would not turn a blind eye to a TV dinner, but they are a little less fearful of food.