Who can resist a fresh-baked treat? They come in so many varieties that there’s something for everyone. Maybe you’re a red velvet cupcake enthusiast. Maybe your favorite treat is a densely studded chocolate chip cookie.
If you’re within driving range of Chanhassen, you’re in luck. Paragon Bakery opened in June and is providing cupcakes, cookies and more, baked from scratch on-site, along with coffee drinks and lunchtime sandwiches made with fresh-baked bread. If you like your guilty pleasure to come with some nutritional value, you’ll be thrilled to find a chocolate carrot zucchini cake, kind of a cross between a chocolate cake and a spice cake.
Owner Tanis Hesser has the baking gene. “I’ve baked all my life, ever since I was little,” she says. “I’ve worked in bakeries; I’ve worked at baking goods to sell from home. People have always encouraged me to start my own bakery.”
Why Chanhassen? “We live in Chaska and wanted something nearby,” Hesser says. Her husband, Ben, is a manager at a nearby Costco, but the proximity allows him to help her out as needed, including overseeing the business-related functions. The location on West 79th Street was also attractive, not just because it’s close to the heavily trafficked Highway 5, but also because West 79th itself has several popular businesses that draw quite a bit of traffic. In addition, the storefront Hesser found has about 500 square feet of undeveloped space behind it, which could potentially house an expansion if the bakery takes off. Having that available for the future was a definite draw.
Since its opening, the bakery has developed a variety of baked goods, including muffins, scones, sweet rolls, cookies, breads, dinner rolls and cakes. There are also doughnuts (baked, not fried) on Saturdays, a special offering that drew high praise from an early customer who returned for more: “They were gone by the time I got to the first traffic light.”
Paragon also offers products made without gluten. Hesser cautions, “We’re not certified to say ‘gluten-free.’ We do work with gluten, and we’re extremely careful about cleaning our equipment and surfaces, but I can’t guarantee gluten-free.” Those products are marked as “made without gluten.”
Shortly after opening, the top sellers were the cinnamon and pecan rolls; airy, light rolls with generous amounts of cinnamon and delicious frosting. But the cakes (available in 6 or 9 inches, or by the slice) are creative and beautifully decorated. “I decorate the cakes,” Hesser says. “I can personalize them, like for birthdays. But I don’t do themed or shaped cakes. I don’t work with fondant—my frostings are all buttercream.”
Currently, Hesser does not plan to offer any specialty wedding cakes or tiered cakes, although many of the cakes she does offer are beautiful enough to hold their own on a special occasion. And she’s not ruling anything out in the future: “We’re always open for new ideas,” she says. “I enjoy trying new things.”
One idea she’s excited about is pursuing business accounts in the community. “Chanhassen Dinner Theatres is talking to us about occasionally using our cakes,” she says. “We want to eventually develop some wholesale relationships, work with caterers, that kind of thing.” She was also feeling out the market in terms of lunch offerings, in the form of sandwiches made with her home-baked breads. “We’ll see what the demand is,” she says.
As with any new business, there’s been a learning curve. Opening a business that’s dependent on a good pool of employees during a time of low unemployment was a challenge (although it helps that her 16-year-old home-schooled son helps out).
Handling the vast amount of paperwork and accounting required was another, but to take on that challenge, the Hessers received a small loan from the Southwest Initiative Foundation (SWIF) that gave them access to a specialist who works with them weekly. “It’s a lot to learn, and the SWIF program has been incredibly helpful,” Hesser says.
But neither she nor her husband are deterred. “My husband has a great business background, and I have an extensive baking background,” she says. “Plus, I have lots of experience training people, so I can bring in someone without heavy baking training and work with them. We’re both very determined. We’re not giving up any time soon.” Hesser’s sentiment would be appreciated by the streams of people of all ages coming through the door to choose their day’s favorite pick-me-up.
For now, the cheerful storefront on West 79th might be small, but it has a welcoming interior that invites visitors to choose a delectable pastry and hot beverage, then relax at one of the cozy tables and enjoy the treat. If Hesser does expand into the space behind the shop, besides adding storage and office space, she’d like to add a small private party room as well.
At the time of writing, Hesser wasn’t sure exactly what she might offer for the holidays, although she suspects Christmas cookies and dinner rolls would be popular offerings. While she would like to offer pies, that’s probably in the future, given how labor-intensive they are to make by hand. “If the business grows, I’d like to get more machinery, more equipment,” she says. “A pie press would be great. Then offering holiday pies would be much more feasible.”
In the meantime, maybe a new holiday tradition: Chocolate mousse cake, anyone?
(Owner and baker Tanis Hesser sits with a carrot muffin and cup of coffee in her Chanhassen bakery.)