The e’clair lives on at Butter

LYNDALE —Coffee shops in Minneapolis are as ubiquitous as hipsters on bikes — it’s hard to turn the corner without running right into one. But not all coffeehouses have what it takes to keep the bean-thirsty caffeine junkies coming back. A relaxing ambiance, comfy chairs, and free Wi-Fi are crucial, but it helps to have a hook. Butter Bakery and Café, a mid-sized shop at 36th Street and Grand Avenue, has found its calling in light, puffy éclairs.

“I have so many people who walk in here and go ‘You make this here? From scratch? People still do that?’” laughs owner Dan Swenson-Klatt, who lives in Kingfield. “And I go, ‘Yeah, I’ll show you a bag of flour right here.’”

Swenson-Klatt inherited the popular éclair recipe from Greg Martin, the former owner of Butter and current owner of Urban Bean, who inherited it from Stacy Sowinski, former owner of Sweetski’s, a café that once sat in Butter’s urban nook.

“I have had people come in who are like ‘Oh man, it’s the Butter éclair,’” Swenson-Klatt says. “And they ask, ‘Is this Stacy’s recipe?’”

It certainly is, but Butter hasn’t stopped at fluffy French pastries. In addition to the locally famous éclairs, Butter is a full-fledged bakery with homemade cookies, bars, scones, cakes and other sugary delights.

When he first took over ownership in January of 2006, Swenson-Klatt was the sole baker, putting in more than 100 hours a week behind the counter. He’d start baking around 5 a.m., open the shop at 7 a.m., work most of the day, take a short break, return at 9 p.m. and work until midnight preparing for the next day.

“It wasn’t the kind of thing I knew I could do for very long,” he says. So, about six weeks ago, Swenson-Klatt hired Amy Kovacs — also a Kingfield homeowner — to be Butter’s full-time baker.

Like many Southwest locals, Kovacs used to stop by Butter and admire the pretty baked goods on display behind a glass case near the register. She’d been working as a baker at Lakewinds Natural Foods in Minnetonka — a former outlet for Sweetski’s éclairs — when she heard that Swenson-Klatt could use some help.

“I loved my job, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do something of my own,” she says, “and to be able to walk to work and work in my own community.” With Kovacs on staff, Swenson-Klatt is finally able to get some shut-eye, and Butter has a new selection of mouthwatering treats including brownies, cupcakes and buttermilk biscuits. The coffeehouse also offers a full lunch menu with tasty soups, sandwiches and salads made fresh each day.

A community effort

Butter’s small team works hard to keep all of their ingredients fresh, organic and local. Kovacs, a licensed dietician, doesn’t use hydrogenated oils in her baked goods and scarcely uses food dyes. Much of Butter’s coffee comes from Peace Coffee, a fair trade, organic bean supplier based in Minneapolis. Swenson-Klatt works with a community-supported agriculture farm, buys seasonal fruits and vegetables from the farmer’s market, and hopes to form relationships with an apple orchard and berry farm.

Maintaining a community feel is important to Swenson-Klatt, who used to teach language arts at a middle school in Woodbury. “I love just getting out of places and going ‘Oh yeah, there’s somebody who comes in,’” he chuckles. “And they think of me and go,‘Oh yeah, the Butter guy.’”

The shop has plenty of regulars — many of whom Swenson-Klatt knows by name. He admits that he misses teaching, but running Butter was a much-needed challenge. “Better than a red sports car but more work than a lot of other things,” he jokes. “This is about as far as you get from 14-year-olds.”

Many coffeehouses in Minneapolis aren’t kid-friendly, but Butter’s doors are always open to the smaller set, with juiceboxes in the fridge and games on the ledge of a big bay window.

“I like stubborn 3-year-olds,” says Swenson-Klatt, referring to a particular tot named Ana who refuses to set foot in any other coffee shop than Butter. “It’s a neighborhood spot. I like having the neighborhood kids drop by.”

Visitors to the shop may notice changes in the coming months, as Swenson-Klatt is thinking about ways to add more art, entertainment and evening activities to the menu. “We’re finally kind of reaching the point of going, okay, we can do this,” he says. “Now what’s next?”