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Chicago's Last Swedish Bakery's Treats Still Coveted as Holidays Approach

By Justin Breen | December 10, 2012 7:19am

ANDERSONVILLE — It's December, and the last Swedish bakery in Chicago is cranking out pastries — 24/7.

As the holidays approach, the aptly named Swedish Bakery has ramped up its operations to meet the heavy demand for its delicacies, including cardamom coffee cakes, petit fours, marzipan and chocolate ganache. Some customers even come from hundreds of miles away to get the treats, workers say.

“People come here to really stock up,” said Angelika Wolberg, a longtime customer of the bakery, located at 5348 N. Clark St.

But it might come as a surprise, then, that despite its name, the bakery is now owned by a German-Greek family, has no Swedes on staff and actually less than one-third of its products are Swedish.

Yet, the 80-year-old business has not only survived but thrived and become a fixture in its North Side neighborhood.

“When you think of Andersonville, you think of the Swedish Bakery," Andersonville Chamber of Commerce executive director Ellen Shepard said. "You can hardly imagine the neighborhood without" it.

The bakery has been in operation since 1928 or 1929, though no one knows for sure.

The Stanton family, the current owners, has run the business since 1979.

Marlies Stanton was born and raised in Germany, where her parents owned a pastry and coffee shop. She started working at the Swedish Bakery in 1971 for then-owner Gosta Bjuhr and eventually decided to buy it from him with her husband George.

Now 81, she still lives upstairs from the bakery. She is “retired,” but still works six days a week, beginning as early as 3:30 a.m. to frost cakes and assemble items like marzipan-covered frogs.

Son Dennis Stanton, who rarely takes a day off, is in charge of the bakery’s finances.

Marlies' twins are involved, too. Daughter Kathy Stanton-Cromwell, specializes in retail and human resources, and her twin brother, George Stanton helps create unique desserts.

“If you’re in this business … you have to either love this or be crazy, or be a combination of both,” Kathy Stanton-Cromwell said. “This [bakery] is a tribute to my mom and to her work ethic. She raised us the same way. We’re as invested as she is.”

That investment also is reflected in employee loyalty. The store now employs 45 people. Many of the workers, including Mark Allen, have spent decades inside the sweet-smelling store.

“Marlies and her family have been like a family to me,” said Allen, who has worked a midnight to 8 a.m. shift as the overnight baker since 1979. “When I started here, there were four or five Swedish bakeries here. This has been the only one to survive."

The Stanton family expects to run the bakery for at least 15 to 20 more years. Family members said they have no plans to sell, but none of the Stanton children have kids of their own. Whoever buys the bakery, if it is ever sold, must be willing to go elbow-deep in almond paste, family members said.

“If someone wants to buy this, they need to understand it’s a labor of love," Dennis Stanton said.