It was as if, all at once, health food bloggers had a realization that those little toaster rectangles are unhealthy and sugary, convenience and junky deliciousness be damned. To which we say: Oh fuck off.
Luckily, we have people like Fruit & Grain's Emily Lauer, who's not only nostalgic for the Pop-Tart, but one of the few people locally putting a baker's touch on the unfairly maligned pastry treat.
Lauer grew up with an interest in food—her grandma was a baker, her dad was for many years a professional chef and a co-owner of Seward's Coastal Seafoods, and her brother is also a chef. Her baking career started modestly, with one-off Thanksgiving pie sales for friends and family members.
About three years ago, she made the jump to a few Twin Cities farmers markets, using the cottage food producer's law to bake from her home. The early days went well, but Lauer quickly learned a simple truth about selling baked goods at farmers markets: "If you charge more than five bucks for an item, it's hard to make a lot of sales," she says. Full-sized pies, at closer to $30, are a bit too pricey and also unwieldy for the average market shopper—they're heavy and big, and a single person doesn't pick one up on a whim.
It's that little wrinkle that led Lauer to the handmade treats you'll now find popping up at a handful of coffee shops around the Twin Cities: Pop-Tarts.
"I'm a kid of the '90s, and I was like, well, I'm gonna do Pop-Tarts. Because Pop-Tarts—they're kind of gross, but they're kind of good, right?" she laughs. They're also kind of like a little pie that you can hold in your hand. "It's not an original idea that I've created, but it's kind of a nostalgic treat to me."
The Pop-Tarts quickly became her best seller. Of course, you know how these stories go by now—after a successful year or so of selling them alongside her hand pies, galettes, and other pastries, the pandemic hit, effectively canceling the 2020 market season and leaving many local makers in the lurch.
"I was really worried, because that was kind of my only job at that point," Lauer says. She shifted her focus, offering no-contact pickup from her front yard. "And that was gangbusters," she laughs, echoing many of the folks behind pop-ups that took off during COVID. "I would sell out in like 10 minutes online of everything I could produce."
Around that time, Northern Coffeeworks in downtown Minneapolis reached out. Their chef had left, and they'd enjoyed her Pop-Tarts at farmers markets and wanted to know if she'd sell to them. The catch was, she couldn't—the cottage food law doesn't allow for home bakers to distribute to restaurants—but Lauer threw out an idea. If their kitchen wasn't being used, she could get a license and work from there. As that's exactly what she did.
The Pop-Tarts make up the bulk of her sales to this day, perhaps in part because while you'll find them in bakery cases from Boston to Portland, there aren't too many places to get this style of pastry-grade Pop-Tart in the Twin Cities. And the move to Northern Coffeeworks helped grow her holiday pie business, since baking from home placed limitations on how much she could reasonably make.
Though Northern Coffeeworks has moved from downtown to Standish-Ericsson, a location that doesn't currently have a kitchen of its own, you'll still find their case stocked with Fruit & Grain's Pop-Tarts and savory hand pies. (These days Lauer's baking from a commercial kitchen at Luther Seminary College.) For the last few months, Fruit & Grain Pop-Tarts have been available on Saturdays and Sundays at St. Paul Bagelry on Nicollet, and just last week, Lauer added Uptown's Curioso Coffee Bar to her list of wholesale accounts, where you can find her wares Friday through Sunday.
After taking two years off due to the pandemic, she'll be back at the Linden Hills and Kingfield farmers markets this summer, and if you're interested in getting a holiday pie of your own? Your next chance will be the Passover and Easter pop-up at Bench Pressed on April 16, where she'll be selling macaroons, cupcakes, and pies, along with matzo ball soup, herbed pork loin, and cassoulet.
Lauer says she'd love to do more of the savory stuff, which has been ramping up since her brother moved back from Chicago. In the future—maybe at Angry Catfish, and maybe, someday, in a bakery of her own—she hopes you'll find galettes topped with fresh eggs, more quiches, more soups.
"I don't feel we've totally had our big break yet," she says, "but I hope it's coming."