All in the Family
By: Sandee Remis
In August of 1994, the Stanton family, owners of the Swedish Bakery, proudly lit 15 candles on the birthday cake for their Andersonville establishment at 5348 N. Clark. They had a lot to celebrate.
Marlies Stanton’s passion for the bakery business began at an early age in Germany, in the Dusseldorf pastry shop owned by her parents. Young Marlies happily worked for the family business until its untimely destruction in World War II. Despite the fact that very few, if any, women at that time entered the cake and pastry industry, she successfully completed her apprenticeship in Gottingen, Germany.
Marlies emigrated to Chicago in 1953. She obtained a job at the legendary Edgewater Beach Hotel, shortly after her arrival, by correctly answering the head pastry chefs question regarding the number of eggs in a particular pastry mix. There she met her husband-to-be, George, who worked at the hotel as chief steward. Their wedding reception was, naturally, held at the Edgewater Beach and featured a huge, 4-tiered wedding cake made by the bride.
After leaving the hotel, Marlies went to work as a pastry chef for Bjuhr’s Swedish Bakery in the heart of Andersonville. She and husband George purchased the business in 1979, when Mr. Bjuhr retired, and ran it along with son, George Jr. Their European style pastries and cakes had customers lined up wall to wall. In 1988, they were joined by daughter Kathy and, in 1991, son Dennis came aboard - truly making the bakery a family-owned and operated entity.
Another cause for celebration is the impressive success of the bakery following a 3-year, $1 million expansion project, completed in 1992. The facility was expanded onto the site of a neighboring Korean restaurant, which the Stantons had bought and razed. It now boasts over 6,000 square feet - making it one of the largest family-owned bakeries in the city of Chicago. Storefront space alone quadrupled to well over 1400 square feet. That was welcome news for loyal bakery patrons who, in the past, waited up to two hours in the popular bakery’s Saturday crowds.
With more kitchen and retail space available, the Stantons gradually added more than 40 new products, including 10 types of bread. They also resumed some product lines that had been discontinued for lack of space, including multiple-tier wedding cakes and doughnuts. Doughnuts had become a casualty some years earlier, when Chicago’s building code was changed to require a fryer hood too large for the bakery.
Since the expansion, 15 employees have been added and gross sales have increased by 75 percent, per operations manager Dennis Stanton in a NewsStar article that appeared last August.
Even with all the new products added in response to customer suggestions, the bakery has kept making traditional items:
- Swedish limpa bread (with ground fennel and a buttermilk base)
- marzariner (an iced almond tart)
- pepperkakor hearts (holiday cookies made with ground cloves, cinnamon and ginger)
- Andersonville Coffee Cake (named after the bakery’s own historic neighborhood and made from a cardamom yeast dough filled with scrumptious almond paste and cinnamon)
Its two most popular cakes are the Fruit Glazed Torte and the Princess Torte. Both feature a yellow layer cake with a custard and whipped cream filling. The Fruit Glazed Torte is topped with an arrangement of strawberries or mixed fruit covered in a sweet glaze. It is finished with whipped cream or marzipan on the sides. A Swedish Bakery specialty, the Princess Torte is a rare commodity in Chicago. A traditional European delight, the Princess is draped in a luscious, rich coat of marzipan.
Sweet success couldn’t have happened to a nicer family. Happy birthday to the Stantons and their Swedish Bakery!