Burt McGlynn, chairman of DecoPac, Inc., passed away Dec. 23 at his home in Florida. McGlynn, former chairman of McGlynn Bakeries, was a true example of a Minnesota entrepreneur. For more than fifty years, he played a vital role within the family-run business, and, at each stage, recognized opportunities that took the company to new levels.
Minnesotans were first introduced to McGlynn Bakeries in 1919, when it was founded by Burt’s father, James T. “J.T.” McGlynn. Burt’s career began in the family business, working in his father’s bakery at age 15 as a cleaner. He later filled in for bakers when they were on vacations, drove delivery trucks on wholesale routes and waited on customers at the service counter. During World War II, Burt attended a school for cooks and bakers in New Orleans and served as a baker in the Navy, stationed in the Philippines.
After the war, Burt returned to Minnesota to help run his father’s growing bakery business, which, at the time, had 11 downtown shops and several wholesale routes. Burt purchased the company from his father in 1956, and two years later sold the business to Emrich Baking Company where he stayed on as head of retail operations. After a few years with Emrich Baking, Burt saw an opportunity to open instore bakeries in the new Target stores being developed by Dayton’s Department Stores in the Twin Cities. He resigned from Emrich, acquired his family’s trade name and was in business again with his first two bakeries in the Knollwood and Crystal Target stores. By 1972, there were over 35 Target Stores with in-store McGlynn’s Bakery departments.
The business changed and expanded greatly over the next few decades. It entered the frozen bakery products business, and eventually sold that business in 1992 to Pillsbury. Another frozen bakery products business was begun in 1995 and sold in 2004 to Ralcorp Holdings, Inc. Bakery plants were constructed in Eden Prairie, Chanhassen and Fridley and at one time employed over 2,000 people.
The remaining family business, DecoPac, Inc. is the largest marketer of cake decorations to professional cake decorators in the world. DecoPac, Inc. currently employs more than 500 people in the U.S. and England with annual revenues over $125 million.
Burt graduated from DeLaSalle High School, attended Dunwoody Institute and received an honorary Doctorate of Philanthropy degree from St. Mary’s University, Winona. Along with his wife, Rosalyn, Burt supported numerous charities. He was a member of The Minneapolis Club, Interlachen Country Club, Lafayette Club, The Sanctuary Golf Club, and Captiva Island Yacht Club.
Burt is survived by four sons, one of whom works in the family business, a daughter, sixteen grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren. Like the baked goods his company made, Burt was made up of the perfect ingredients to be the best.
The following story originally published in the January 2009 issue of Baking Buyer.
Legends of Bakery: Burt McGlynn wore a lot of hats in the bakery business, and wore them well.
by John Unrein
In every industry there are ordinary people who accomplish extraordinary feats. They do not set out to change the world, or to seek credit for their accomplishments. Simply, they work hard toward a lofty goal and, when times get tough, they persevere through innovation and – sometimes – a little luck. These are the stories of legends.
Burt McGlynn wore many hats during his more than half-century career in the bakery business. None fit quite as uniquely as the cap he wore as the Trav'l Bake bus driver in 1954. It was then McGlynn Bakeries introduced one of the many clever innovations tried over the years by this Minneapolis family business, all in an effort to accomplish one single-minded purpose: Please the customer.
The Trav’l Bake bus was quite a sight to see in the ‘50s, chugging along the streets of the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park and delivering hot donuts and freshly baked bread to local neighborhoods. This bakery-on-wheels happened to be the vision of Burt’s father, James T. (JT) McGlynn, founder of the family business in 1919 and a man known for his inventive mind and engaging spirit.
“Fresh hot glazed donuts were our biggest seller. They sold for only 10 cents apiece,” Burt McGlynn recalled about the Trav’l Bake bus, which drew so much national attention it was featured in the Wall Street Journal. “Housewives would come out to buy a loaf of bread. But in some ways, it was kind of scary. A lot of kids would see the bus and come running out into the streets. I was afraid I might hit one of them.”
The Ford bus was retrofitted with an electric donut fryer on board, along with an electric oven that had to be kept level. Imagine the disaster if you drove over a pothole while Angel food cake was baking in the oven! For a year, McGlynn drove that crazy bus, bringing donuts, breads, Danish and Angel food cake to the suburbs of Minneapolis. The people always knew it was coming once they heard the unmistakable sound of the doorbell chime dinging over a loudspeaker.
Still, not all great experiments translate into big profits, and the Trav’l Bake bus was retired after only a year. Supermarkets were starting to spill into the suburbs of Minneapolis by 1950, when the city was home to about 600,000 people and was larger than Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, San Antonio or San Diego.
With this shift happening in the marketplace, Burt McGlynn was starting to get another bright idea.
A Life-Changing Decision
Shortly after World War II, McGlynn came home upon completion of military service in the U.S. Navy (he was assigned to the Philippines for a year) and thought he’d go back to college. He’d completed a year of studies before going overseas and wanted to continue toward a degree. He applied to St. Thomas College in St. Paul, MN. But there was no room.
“Then I started working at the bakery for my dad and one day I get a call from St. Thomas, saying, ‘We can get you in now. Classes start on Monday,’” Burt McGlynn recalled. “My dad said, ‘I really need you to help me in the bakery. He begged me to stay, and I did.”
It was the kind of decision that changes a young man’s life forever. At the time, Burt McGlynn did not realize how the course of his career would change because of it, but the son never wavered, never looked back. His father needed him. That was all it took. It was the only thing that really mattered.
By 1956, McGlynn Bakeries operated six retail bakeries in the Twin Cities and owned a central bakery where the Metrodome is located today. Two factors, in particular, were pinching the retail bakery business. More local supermarkets started carrying baked goods, although on-premise baking was rare. Then banks stated closing on Saturdays, resulting in fewer customers heading to the city on the weekends.
“When the banks closed, there were a lot of reasons people didn’t go downtown,” McGlynn said. “Saturday was a bakery’s biggest day, and we found that our sales were going down. My dad felt like the whole thing was changing. He thought we were going to go broke. I had a different idea.”
Burt McGlynn realized that the expansion of more supermarkets could open the door for someone to supply them with fresh baked goods. “In 1956, I bought the business from my dad. Then, we started going after different types of business. I figured I could get bakery into the bigger stores in the suburbs.”
Thus, McGlynn Bakeries switched gears from a primary retail focus to more wholesale distribution.
Targeted for Growth
Two years later, McGlynn sold the business to Emrich Baking Company and went to work for them as head of retail operations. One of his accounts was Applebaum's Food Markets, with which he began a business relationship that was instrumental to the company's growth.
In the early 1960s, Dayton's Department Stores were developing a new retail concept, a discount store named Target. Applebaum's had planned to build grocery stores in connection with the new Target stores. Hy Applebaum approached McGlynn and asked if he would consider leasing space from Applebaum's and setting up on-premise bakeries in the stores.
In 1962, McGlynn resigned from Emrich Baking Company and started over from scratch. He opened his first two bakeries in the Knollwood and Crystal Target Stores (both in suburbs of Minneapolis). Through association with Applebaum's and Target in the early 1960s, the business expanded to Duluth, Denver, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Tulsa, St. Louis, and Milwaukee, in addition to growth in the Twin Cities.
“I baked in the grocery part of the Target stores: bread, pies, cakes, donuts. They did great business right off the bat,” McGlynn said. “Mostly, we went with self-service wrapped bakery products. I fried donuts right by the checkout. Then my wife suggested, ‘Why don’t you put cake decorating in the store? So we did. We put up a sign, ‘Watch us decorate cakes.’ All the women and kids would come around to sit and watch us decorate cakes. Then we really started making money.”
Cake decorating started in 1966 at the Bloomington, MN, Target store. By 1972, there were more than 35 Target Stores with instore McGlynn's Bakery departments. At this time, all baking was done in the Target stores. However, plans for smaller Target stores in 1973 created the need for a production facility that could bake for expanding needs.
Dough & Decorations
In October 1973, McGlynn’s opened a central bakery in Eden Prairie, a southwestern suburb of Minneapolis. Over time, the facility was expanded from 12,000 square feet of space to 130,000 square feet. During this growth, the business was expanded to include frozen bakery products for sale to other retail bakeries and foodservice accounts.
The first product line was croissants. Danish, puff pastry, cookies, muffins and other products followed. A larger facility was built further west of the Eden Prairie facility to handle even more frozen product growth. Then the frozen segment of the business was sold to Pillsbury in 1992.
“At the time, we were the biggest frozen croissant maker in the world,” McGlynn said. “That part of it was fun. It’s an interesting business. I remember when Pillsbury was buying the frozen division, someone asked, ‘How about this DecoPac (a division of McGlynn’s at the time)?’ We knew there was a lot of potential.”
DecoPac had been formed as an internal company of McGlynn’s in 1982 to supply cake decorations to McGlynn’s Bakery stores. But the genesis of this business started a decade earlier when, in 1973, McGlynn’s started importing cake decorating toys directly from Asia.
In addition, McGlynn’s re-entered the frozen bakery market in 1995 with a new division called Concept 2 Bakers. Concept 2 Bakers had its products produced by the central bakery in Fridley, MN. Eventually, McGlynn’s Bakeries closed the last of its retail operations in December 2003, while continuing to grow Concept 2 Bakers. In February 2004, Concept 2 Bakers was sold to Lofthouse Bakery Products.
In the cake business, Burt McGlynn emphasized they’d learned a lot about the importance of having standardized decorating guidelines and decorations for their cakes from their experiences in the instore bakery environment.
“We had one decorator who was really good, and we made up a set of different cakes following his standard guidelines,” McGlynn recalled.
The next step involved the decorations. McGlynn remembered the day he was playing tennis with a top toy company executive in Minneapolis, and talk turned to toys. Until that point, McGlynn’s cakes were decorated with simple decorations like a tiny cluster of balloons.
“I asked him where they got all their toys, and he suggested we could try buying direct from Hong Kong. We had a meeting in New York with Mr. Hung, his contact from Hong Kong, and we started shipping products in from Hong Kong. Then all our stores were using the same products. We had a standard cake order form, and everything was consistent.”
Ultimately, they took the cake decorating concept on the road to see if other bakeries would be interested. “We decided, let’s go to a bakers’ convention and see if we could sell these products,” McGlynn remembered. “At the first show in St. Louis, Mike (McGlynn) and my other son came back and told me they didn’t sell anything. The photography wasn’t any good. Then we got better photos and went to the bakers’ convention the next year, and started selling.”
Looking Back on it All
Of Burt McGlynn’s five children – Mike, Tim, Dan, Tom and Molly – Mike McGlynn, DecoPac’s CEO, works for the family business today. Dan and Tom are on the board of DecoPac. In addition to his family, Burt McGlynn credited all the people of McGlynn’s Bakeries and DecoPac for the company’s ongoing success.
“When I look back, there are a lot of wonderful people working for me that made us successful,” he said. “It’s been a fun business. I don’t think we ever had a year where we lost money.”
He split time between the company’s Minnesota headquarters and his Florida home on Captiva Island on the Gulf Coast. He was also a member of the One Percent Club, an organization of members who pledge to contribute at least 1 percent of their net worth annually to the charitable causes of their choice.
“Mostly I give to people who take care of the poor,” McGlynn said. “People should give their money away to worthy causes and discover the satisfaction you get by helping somebody else. It is better to give than to receive. It feels great to give."
How appropriate. Giving is what Burt McGlynn’s career in the bakery business was all about.