Nichole of Nichole's Fine Pastry celebrates 10 years of taking her own sweet time
FARGO - Nichole Hensen is celebrating her first decade in business the way you'd expect a baker to celebrate: She's baking a cake.
A number of cakes, actually.
Nichole's Fine Pastry celebrates its 10-year mark (which was technically Jan. 31), with customer appreciation days this week, featuring $1 off glasses of wine all day Thursday, 10 percent off of entire purchases on Friday and free cake until it's gone at 5 p.m. Saturday. There will even be some singing with Amanda Standalone and the Pastry Shop Girls performing at from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday. The group started as a staff band and still features pastry chefs Minda Ringdahl and Abby Swegarden.
But last Friday, the day after Valentine's Day, Hensen wasn't quite ready to start baking again. She says the holiday was one of their biggest days yet, and the staff is still trying to recover.
Every year it seems the Eighth Street eatery grows in popularity, meaning the space has had to grow as well. In 2010, Hensen knocked out a wall into the building to the south. The expansion more than doubled the amount of seating and allowed the café to expand its lunch menu.
With 10 years on her feet and a good staff on hand, she now spends more time in the office and less in the kitchen.
Hensen sat down long enough to talk about the first 10 years and what the next 10 hold.
How did this Valentine's Day compare to the first year, when you'd just opened?
I don't even remember that first Valentine's Day. We were just getting started.
What surprised you in your first 10 years? What didn't you expect?
How well Fargo has received this shop, how much community support we get. I feel very lucky. I figured it would go over. I didn't anticipate to this extent. It's far more than I ever expected ... I'm surprised how many people come in here weekly, or even daily. I didn't expect that. There are some people in here we see twice a day.
When did you know you'd need to expand?
I knew in about 2006. I remember a Saturday in here when we had to bring in (and) set-up the tables we use outdoors in the summer because there was no place to sit. I remember being embarrassed because there were more people coming in than we had places to sit.
That allowed the lunch options to expand. How big a part of your business is lunch?
It's about a third. When I opened I didn't want to do lunch. I didn't want to worry about slicing meats and cheeses and not frosting cakes. I didn't want to diversify. I don't have the cooler space for all of that. I didn't set up to do lunch. But that first year I remember being hungry and wondering what I was going to eat for lunch. That first day we made six sandwiches and it just snowballed.
Bakers are known for working early hours. How early do you get in and how many hours a week do you work now?
Tuesday through Saturday I work about 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. But that's just within the last nine months. In the beginning I was doing bookwork on Sunday and prep work on Monday. One of the staffers here said we could open up at 7 or 7:30 a.m. (They currently open at 8 a.m.). I told her she'd have to come in at 5 a.m. That's insane. I wouldn't do this if I had to do that.
What items do you have trouble keeping in the cases?
The feuilletine towers (a chocolate cocoa cake layered with hazelnut crunch and dark chocolate mousse, covered in dark chocolate glaze). In the summer, fruit tarts. Chocolate croissants are often sought after.
What did you think would be a hit but never really caught on?
We did a pineapple coconut cake that was great, in my opinion, but we just could never sell it compared to other things. We could put it out now and it would sell.
What kind of a birthday cake would you make for your 10-year anniversary?
I've been thinking about it. I think we may do a confetti cake with the colored specks in it. If you're going to make 400 pieces of cake, it makes it doable.
You're around sweets all day long. How do you stay skinny?
That's easy. When you're around this much of it, you don't want to eat it. It's the best diet to be on. I'll eat a date bar or in the summer a fruit tart. That's what got me into baking.
What do the next 10 years have in store?
I'm at a spot in my career where I'm not sure what I should do. People tell me to sit back and relax and not do any more. ... I'm more inclined to chill out and appreciate that I'm not working 80 hours a week anymore.
If you go
What: Nichole's 10-year anniversary party
When: 5 - 9 p.m. Saturday
Where: Nichole's Fine Pastry, 13 8th St. S., Fargo
Info: This event is free and open to the public. (701) 232-6430.
Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533