I came across Butter Bakery and Café in South Minneapolis the same way most people probably still do – I lived in the neighborhood and became a regular. I’d stop in on the way to work to grab a scone and a cup of coffee. I’d meet friends there for brunch on the weekends. I’d run into neighbors there and sit down with them for an impromptu chat. I got to know the staff and the owner, Dan Swenson-Klatt. I became a part of the Butter community, and eventually, I even worked there as a baker.
Being a baker, especially one who opens a shop, is far from glamorous. It means rolling out of bed and getting to work by five in the morning (sometimes hours earlier). No matter how careful you are in the kitchen, you inevitably bear the battle scars of baking in the form of multiple burns from hot pans and oven doors. The work can also be monotonous; making the same scones, muffins, sweet breads and coffee cakes day after day, week after week.
But there’s always that one thing you enjoy making, no matter how often you have to make it. For me, when I was opening baker at Butter, that item was the biscuits. I loved how just a few simple ingredients mixed quickly together combined into a delightfully fluffy dough. I loved scooping the dough out of a big bowl onto a floured surface and gently pressing it to just the right height. My favorite part was stamping out each biscuit and laying it on the sheet pan. It was intensely satisfying. It was also pretty satisfying to take the fresh-baked biscuits out of the oven and admire them in all their golden, fluffy glory.
Swenson-Klatt inherited the biscuit recipe, along with a few others (such as eclairs), with the space when he opened on Grand Avenue in 2006. He improved upon it by using locally-made butter from Hope Creamery. “Hope butter was the upgrade to the biscuits that really put them on the map,” says Swenson-Klatt. “It was easy to say there’s a story, but there’s also a taste – both things together created a biscuit that was what people really wanted.”
Nearly all of the items at Butter are made from scratch in-house using locally sourced products, which is no easy feat in Minnesota. “Sourcing locally has been a way to reimagine the way Minneapolis eats,” Swenson-Klatt observes. “There’s been a real revival – even though our growing season here is short. I’ve enjoyed watching that grow around me.”
Swenson-Klatt was also one of the first to make his restaurant a sustainable space with little-to-no waste. He began composting early and has enjoyed seeing it become the norm city-wide. “Now there are compost carts in everyone’s yards. I was ahead of the game, but I never wanted to be the only one in the game,” he jokes.
Butter has always been a community-focused space, the kind of coffee shop that makes the neighborhood feel like a small town in a big city. Swenson-Klatt loves that Butter succeeds in providing that kind of experience. He notes, "We're a place where people bring their kids to meet the people in their neighborhood."
Swenson-Klatt worked behind a grill as a cook when he was in high school, which was the extent of his restaurant experience until he opened Butter. He taught seventh and eighth graders in the Twin Cities metro for nineteen years. During his last decade of teaching, he taught in alternative school programs designed to work with kids who didn’t fit a standard traditional school setting. He even experimented with bringing kids into the kitchen to learn how to cook and bake.
When Butter moved to a bigger space on Nicollet Avenue in 2012, Swenson-Klatt began a partnership with Nicollet Square to provide internships for kids who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. “As a former teacher, and especially as a teacher in alternative settings who has worked with young folds who have been struggling, I wanted to find a place to do that as a business owner, but I didn't know how to bring it into what I was doing," he explains. "It's having an impact beyond serving good foo. which gives me a bigger purpose than what I'd been doing."
That doesn’t mean the food comes second; in fact, it has garnered Butter ongoing recognition. In addition to the biscuit sandwich, the café is known for its biscuits with homemade sausage gravy or mushroom gravy. The kitchen also accommodates request for variations on the biscuit sandwich, and offers a simple griddled biscuit with a side of butter and jam. “If you choose the best butter, it’s going to be pretty good,” Swenson-Klatt says, referring to the Butter biscuit. “There aren’t a lot of ingredients in them, so if you use good ingredients, like Hope butter – part of it is that it’s just simple.”
People often ask Swenson-Klatt about the butterfly in Butter’s logo. He explains that it has something to do with transformation. "Most folks recognize the beauty of seeing places and people transform, "he explains. "I bought this place with my father’s inheritance, and he wanted me to do something good with it. It’s been a transformation for my family, for me, and indeed, this whole neighborhood, to have a place that’s community-oriented. It’s all about finding support for each other. To be able to do that is a gift. It sure helps to have the good food, too.”
Butter’s Buttermilk Biscuits
Makes about 10 biscuits
4.5 cups (22.5 oz) flour
1/8 cup (1 oz) baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
16 Tablespoons (0.5 lb) cold butter, grated (use the large holes on a cheese grater)
2 3/8 cups (20 oz) buttermilk
Preheat convection oven to 325 degrees or regular oven to 300 degrees.
· Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a big bowl.
· Mix the chilled grated butter into the flour mixture. You can dust the butter in the flour mixture to make it easier to handle.
· Whisk the eggs and buttermilk together.
· Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour the wet into it. Quickly stir the wet ingredients in and knead it a few times to pull it all together, but be careful not to overmix it.
· Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and pat it down into a rectangle about 2” high. Cut into rounds with a 3 ½” flour cutter (straight down, no twisting).
· Place biscuits on baking sheet covered in parchment paper so they just touch. Bake about 15-20 minutes in convection oven or 20-25 minutes in regular oven until they turn golden brown (do not overcook).
· Remove from oven, let cool enough to separate the biscuits, and enjoy!