September 22, 2023

Duluth’s Best Bread – Season 5 Episode 32

Welcome to another episode of the Makers of Minnesota Podcast! In today’s installment, host Stephanie Hansen sits down with Robert Lillegard, the mastermind behind Duluth’s Best Bread. Stephanie recently visited Art in Bayfront Park in Duluth and had the pleasure of indulging in some of Robert’s incredible breads and pastries. Join them as they dive into the history of Duluth’s Best Bread, learn about the baking industry, and explore the unique collaborations they have been working on with local breweries and cideries. Get ready to tantalize your taste buds and discover the secrets behind Duluth’s most beloved bakery. 


Stephanie [00:00:12]:

Hello, everybody, and welcome to the makers of Minnesota Podcast. I’m Stephanie Hansen. And this podcast is one where we talk to cool people doing cool things and I

Robert Lillegard [00:00:21]:

just got back from Duluth which has been super fun. I was at Arton Bayfront Park And one of my vendors there that I stood next to the whole weekend was Duluth’s best bread, and I am here with Robert Lillaguard and Duluth’s Best Bread , you may know, is home for incredible breads, but also they have like an amazing cinnamon roll, caramel roll, I always freak out when people talk about Toby’s and Hinkley, because I’m like, no, you need to go to Dulce Best Bread. It’s so much better. How are you, Robert?

Speaker C [00:00:51]:

Well, I’m doing really well, Stephanie. Thanks for asking. It was it’s been getting to know you over the years.

Robert Lillegard [00:00:56]:

So let’s talk a little bit about Dulce Brad and how it got started and just give listeners that might not be familiar with you a little tour.

Speaker C [00:01:04]:

Yeah. So my brother in college was deciding between higher math Chinese isn’t owning a bakery. Oh, boy. Yeah. Because why limit yourself to one passion, and, I conned him into starting a bakery.

Robert Lillegard [00:01:17]:

And how did you con him into it? You just knew he had good treats?

Speaker C [00:01:20]:

You know, I was a fool because I was a consultant and consulting was really easy and lucrative. So I promised Michael, oh, you should be self employed. It’ll be so fun and so easy. And it turns out I was dead wrong.

Robert Lillegard [00:01:33]:

Hospitality is hard.

Speaker C [00:01:35]:

Oh my goodness. I sounds like almost every business is harder than consulting. So still kicking myself, but we’re we’re getting better.

Robert Lillegard [00:01:43]:

how long have you guys been open?

Speaker C [00:01:45]:

Well, so the you wanted more of the story. he baked as this, you know, person who could, you know, black belt in karate and played the tuba really well, and he could do everything except talk to girls. he he was just good at everything. and he cooked his way through the whole tartine cookbook in San Francisco because these brilliant places, they open their recipes, I think, on the assumption that Oakmont no one’s actually gonna copy us. Well, goodness. He the kid copied him. 40 page bread recipe. 4 ingredients. 39 pages of technique. And he he by golly, he did it. I’ve been to our team, and Michael’s doing it. He can do it now. He just taught himself in the cookbooks.

Robert Lillegard [00:02:25]:

That’s incredible because if you don’t know what our team is, one of the highest and big Creeze in the country and really super amazing. They do a great job of, the specifically the lacquer dough and the puff pastry there.

Speaker C [00:02:42]:

And you’ve been there. Right, Stephanie?

Robert Lillegard [00:02:43]:

I have been there, and just had a croissant. I didn’t stay and spend much time there, but yes.

Speaker C [00:02:51]:

So I wanna ask you to commit to us being better, but would you say we’re on the same ball field?

Robert Lillegard [00:02:54]:

I think your croissants are really good. Yeah. And I watched everybody this weekend standing next to your booth And as soon as they saw Duluth best bread, they went for the Cranberry wild rice bread.

Speaker C [00:03:06]:

Oh my goodness. It’s crusty sour. Now that’s one thing I can say. 13 does not have because cranberries and wild rice are as Minnesota as it gets. So what you’re getting is this French, California, and, level of technique just because I have Luke of a Wounderkin for a little brother. I couldn’t do any of this, but he can, and our staff can. And So you’ve got you’ve got the French Paris thing, but all but, like, in a Minnesota way. Yeah. Yeah.

Robert Lillegard [00:03:34]:

So there’s been a lot of energy in Duluth since I wanna say before the pandemic, but then the pandemic, I think, even though we were in a pandemic, people were visiting Duluth because there were so many outdoor options and hiking and doing all the biking and all the things that they can do with boating, and you’re right on the lake there. So when we look at how Duluth best bread fits into the Duluth scenery, Like, was the pandemic super hard for you guys, or have you been able to manage coming out of it? in a different way or in the same way that the twin cities has, do you think?

Speaker C [00:04:13]:

Well, when the government shuts down all of arrivals by force and says you can’t open or we’re gonna sue you out of existence, then suddenly, everybody discovers you. So we felt like we were like the girl next door, and we were like, we’ve been waiting all along. We’ve been and suddenly, they see us in a new light because now it’s illegal to go to any restaurant.

Robert Lillegard [00:04:30]:


Speaker C [00:04:31]:

But, you know, they’re still open. Let’s try that. And, oh my god. It’s good. So we started getting lines out the door, and it was quite literally out the door because, for this everybody’s safety, not least of which was our staff, we, force everybody to line up outside the window. We didn’t know what would happen in winter, but people say it. You know, people continue to line up at the window in winter. So I’m very people for that, that that they were willing to go through that inconvenience for safety. And and now we’re just we can’t really open the door again. It’s just too it’s too packed in there.

Stephanie [00:05:01]:

So you

Robert Lillegard [00:05:02]:

still just do the window. Right?

Speaker C [00:05:04]:

At our at our first store, yes. we opened a giant beautiful spacious cafe downtown. which is sometimes full. and I wish it was always full, but I’m happy that it’s sometimes full. Like, you know, like, if we ever see it take I that makes me really happy when I see

Stephanie [00:05:18]:

that. I’ve been to the coffee window.

Robert Lillegard [00:05:20]:

So what’s the address of the full service cafe?

Stephanie [00:05:23]:


Speaker C [00:05:24]:

Superior Street, and we’re open, Tuesday through Sunday now. 6 to 1 most days and

Stephanie [00:05:29]:


Speaker C [00:05:29]:

to 2 Sundays because people sleep in. So it is an early coming kind of place, but it is all morning pretty much every morning open except Mondays.

Robert Lillegard [00:05:36]:

Oh, I love it. So when you pitched me to talk with you, because we have work together for a couple years now. You were telling me about some interesting collaborations that you guys are working on with other breweries and sideries. And You might think of a brewery when you think of bread, but the cidery also kind of intrigued me that you guys are doing collaborations because everyone’s trying to be sustainable and use the spent grains and look at using that in new ways. So tell me a little bit about the collaborations you have.

Speaker C [00:06:10]:

Duluth’s, brewing and cidery scene is, wonderful. It’s really explosive, and there’s so much and so many. different kinds of beers and ciders being brewed, from, you know, the OG brew house, which is actually the oldest brew pub in Minnesota by, like, I think, by, like, 6 months. all the way through to, you know, Warrior Brewing, which opened pretty recently. there’s so many cool, breweries in town that are that they all have so much skill. And what I’ve realized in food is it’s, like, infinitely nested. Like, the culinary ability in passions of all of these different men and women. it’s just more much more than any one of us. Right? Like, the kind of stuff the guys that Earths and Minor come up with is gonna be different than blacklist. but both of them are gonna be intensely good. Like, and so I wanted to tap into that. And I saw that flower bakery in Boston, was doing a sticky roll bun with some bakery road. I don’t really care about bakeries, or I don’t really care about the brewery. Yep. Harper and brewing, I think. I do care about the bakery flower somebody. We very closely, do r and d with. r and d stands for rip off and deploy. so we wish to get at least the best way you know, we store our recipes from protein up front and from flower in Boston and from Dominique Ansel. So, I was like, well, why don’t we steal that idea too and do a bakery brewery collab?

Robert Lillegard [00:07:30]:

And so what does that look like?

Speaker C [00:07:31]:

Well, that looks like is, I said Listen. You’re good. We’re good. Let’s work together. why don’t you make a flavor inspired by one of our baked goods that don’t go tell the newspaper and the coolest podcasters in all of the Twin Cities area, etcetera, about it. And we’ll just, like, be loud and fun and obnoxious. And I I believe there’s no contradiction between those those things loud and or fun and obnoxious. And I said, we have to do that. Let’s just go and go big because people like silly stuff, and they like remixes.

Robert Lillegard [00:08:06]:

They like their 2 big

Speaker C [00:08:07]:

brands together.

Robert Lillegard [00:08:08]:

Of course. So what are some of the flavors that you’re remixing?

Speaker C [00:08:13]:

Well, I am very excited to, share. And the most exciting part, Stephanie, is originally it was just one collab, and then I thought, wait a second. Why don’t we do why don’t we collaborate with everybody? Why should we just do one, right, partner why don’t we partner with every brewery and cider that will have us in this entire region? And each of them, like, I think, like, 9 now have said, you know what? Sounds good to me. which I think that’s what really puts us over the top is exciting. I mean, you know, if they’re making a barrel or 2, it’s not, you know, obviously, probably probably some big shot in in Boston has had a larger net quantum. You know, if Sarah Lee partners with butterfinger, it’s gonna be bigger than anything we could ever do in our entire lives. But but but in terms of bread, I don’t know if anybody’s talked to us anywhere in this country. I don’t think anybody’s doing 8 parrot and 8 different co labs simultaneously. So you want us to know what flavor The blacklist did a cinnamon roll, beer, and I loved it, and they loved it. In fact, you could tell there was a little bit of cynicism at first with the brewers or skepticism, I should say, because they have all both of them told me it’s better than I thought it would be. No offense at all. So why get it, though? Like, your people’s craft is probably felt undignified, and yet it is not sweet. It has these strong cinnamon notes, but it’s not us. It doesn’t taste so it’s like a good old brown ale. And then the aromatics of the cinnamon, I love cinnamon, just drill put it over the top, but, like, you could picture yourself eating that. I think with, like, Afghan food, Indian food, middle eastern food. Like, I could picture eating with a euro or something. Yeah. And it’s fun because, like, cinnamon is not inherently a sweet spice. It could be sweet or savory. And this beer leans more savory. There’s a bitterness to it. So that’s the blacklists in Mineral Ale. I’m not sure if it’s still pouring. then Canal Park Brewing company went a different way. They actually bought our caramel sauce. They bought 10 gallons of caramel sauce, giant tubs of it, and they’ve got this great video on one of them pouring it into the beer. The caramel sauce, what it does because of the sugars, it created a higher ABV than originally anticipated so that to hand right on each can, 7% but a

Stephanie [00:10:29]:


Speaker C [00:10:30]:

So it acts a wall pump. It’s boozy. It’s there’s a little heat from that, but it’s it’s mostly I’ve never had a better pairing for a combo role. I mean, they were meant to be together. You you it offsets. I normally don’t like dessert and beer together. but this Carmel roll really pairs well with a Carmel roll. Oh, I love it. Ding in. Totally in.

Robert Lillegard [00:10:49]:

And tell me about the Cider Colab.

Speaker C [00:10:52]:

Yeah. So those are really fun too. So first of all, Wild State actually kind of did a kickoff event. They did a beer cider or a cider pastry pairing where you could get a little flight and you can get a combo and some macrons and some danishes and you know, sold in a flight. And then then for their, CoLab, they that’s coming up in, September, they’re gonna be releasing the cinnamon roll cider, and there’s no better pairing than apples and cinnamon. So that’s actually still coming mid September, this podcast will probably get aired after that. but it’ll probably still be on tap for those of you who are listening to this in early October. the, Duluth cider, had a peach pop chart cider, and it’s a hoot and a half because they’re actually selling peach pop carts with it. In fact, they wrote to us and said, hey. The 100 you sold us sold really well. We want a 100 more. And, honestly, if nothing else happened, I love selling a 100 pop carts at once. I mean, any of your listeners wanna buy a 100 pop carts, just call me. We’ll do it.

Robert Lillegard [00:11:52]:

I love too that this is like opening up probably some unexpected markets for you with people that maybe you wouldn’t have thought of to do collabs with?

Speaker C [00:12:03]:

You know, to their great and an estimable credit, many of these partners already carry our pretzels. to it. Blacklust has carried our presses for years. and, so a wild state has carried our pretzels, but it’s true that while we have here and there had a couple of things at Dulceider, yet this peach pot purchase certainly our largest ever move with them. And also, I believe a lot of our customers are experiencing their product for the first time. We are a morning business and for better or for worse, for better. I don’t think people, you know, should be getting sloshed at 10 AM. I think for better for worse, the, the breweries and cideries are, nighttime businesses. And so I always joke about our target market being like sweater wearing, NPR listeners who, went to the Peace Corps in

Stephanie [00:12:52]:

19 68

Speaker C [00:12:53]:

and now their grandchildren are in the peace corps. Correct. And sometimes those people in their, you know, on their biking unless they bike around town and remember their boat cruises and you’re They don’t even think about going to the hipster Young place

Stephanie [00:13:03]:

Speaker C [00:13:04]:

Yep. — like Blackbuster Wild State. And yet, I happened to bump into a customer at Black. Let’s just say, hey. Tom, did you know we have a cinnamon roll beer here? He said, no. I said, let’s go. So I can confirm at least one pint was sold directly due to my intervention. And so

Robert Lillegard [00:13:17]:

I paid for

Speaker C [00:13:18]:

Mars, try this, and they did. So it was it’s fun.

Robert Lillegard [00:13:22]:

Well, it’s really cool, Robert. It’s fun to talk to you and to catch up. It’s to lose best bread. which is in Duluth, they have their window, but also you can go now to their full service cafe. And are you I’m down to

Stephanie [00:13:36]:

the Twin Cities anytime soon. Look me up when you do.

Speaker C [00:13:39]:

Oh my gosh. Yes. To share pastries personally and hopefully business eventually develops at some places or or I hear you have some great festivals we should be at down there. Yes. Yes.

Stephanie [00:13:49]:

Some new things happening

Robert Lillegard [00:13:51]:

on our too. we just, acquired the Loring Park Festival, the man I work with just picked that one up. So we will, yeah, we’ll talk about that. as we expand. Thanks, Robert. I appreciate you being with us today. Okay. Well, thank you.

Speaker C [00:14:05]:

Bye. Alright.

Stephanie [00:14:07]:

Bye bye.