Why John Kraus and I Love Mpls.

December 8, 2009

Editor’s note: This is John Reinan’s weekly marketing column for MinnPost. To see the original, go to http://bit.ly/6En2R3.

We hear a lot about what it takes to attract business to Minnesota. Today I’m offering the perspective of one small-business owner.

I talked with John Kraus about the reasons he chose Minneapolis for Patisserie 46, the French bakery he plans to open in March. And not once did the subject of taxes come up. Instead, Kraus talked about community, culture and strong neighborhoods.

John Kraus

John Kraus

Kraus is an ace pastry chef, trained in France and living in Chicago. He’s twice been named one of the top 10 pastry chefs in America by Pastry Art and Design magazine and won the 2004 Food Network Chocolate Challenge.

He’s well established in Chicago, where he teaches at the French Pastry School, a renowned institution that counts several world pastry champions among its faculty. Yet when he decided to open his own business, he chose Minneapolis. Why?

“For the last three years, we’ve been looking for a place to put down some roots,” said Kraus, the father of two young children. “I taught a class in Minneapolis at the Art Institute and was amazed by the city.

“Minneapolis has a great vibe to it,” he said. “It has all the big-city amenities, but also the neighborhood feel. It’s great for a small business because people care about the community.”

Patisserie 46 is slated to open in mid-March at the corner of Grand Avenue and W. 46th Street in south Minneapolis. It’s a corner of the Kingfield neighborhood that has blossomed with several other dining establishments, including Café Ena and King’s.

There’s been a wave of bakeries opening in south Minneapolis in recent years, but Kraus thinks there’s room for more.

“If you’re in France in a small village of 300 people, sometimes there will be four bakeries in that village,” he said.  “I think we’re moving back to that– back to the table. You envision seeing the family stopping in on the way to school, stopping on the way home from work.

“Every neighborhood needs a bakery that they can walk to and send their family to for a loaf of bread.”

Kraus plans to offer artisan breads, pastries and chocolate, along with soup, sandwiches, coffee and ice cream. He said he’ll aim at offering unexpected surprises but has nothing against old favorites.

“One of my old chefs told me, ‘Never cook for yourself– cook for the customer,'” he said. “We’re not going to turn up our noses at oatmeal cookies or the old-fashioned chocolate cake with chocolate icing. What we’re going to do is make a great one.”

I read once that Minnesota has a higher proportion of people who were born here, and have never lived anywhere else, than any other state. As someone who spent the first 22 years of my life here, moved away for 20 years and then returned, I’ve always thought it would be good for Minnesotans to get away for a while.

Why? Because then they wouldn’t take what they have for granted.

Growing up in Fergus Falls, Minneapolis was like the city of Oz to me– a magical place with tall buildings, crowded streets and the bustle of importance. I always thought it was one of America’s great cities. And now, having lived in a half-dozen other major American cities, I feel it all the more strongly.

Like John Kraus, I chose to live here, and like Kraus, it’s the neighborhoods that define the Minneapolis experience for me.

“I hope the people there are proud of their neighborhoods and what’s in them,” Kraus said. “I think it’s important that the neighborhood wraps its arms around us, and we’ll do the same.”