In 1959, brothers Ralph and Ernst Clasen left their home in Germany to pursue a life in America as bakers. Not long after, they settled in Middleton and opened up Clasen’s European Bakery.
They noticed a big hole in the bakery market for European baked goods.
“Back then, you couldn’t even find croissants here,” said Michelle Clasen, founder Ralph Clasen’s daughter and current bakery manager.
The bakery has called a few spots in Middleton home over the past 60 years, finally settling in its current location on Donna Drive, and Michelle Clasen took over the business after receiving her pastry degree in Germany, ready to continue a long, strong family tradition.
In fact, Ralph still pays visits to the bakery, sometimes as often as twice a week during the holiday season, helping to make their famous Peppernut (Pfeffernusse) cookies.
“He has good advice all the time, whenever he’s in,” Clasen said.
The family tradition doesn’t end with just two generations. Michelle Clausen’s son, Tony Wuesthofen, is also learning the business, after recently completing his own culinary school training.
Between Clasen’s vast business experience and Wuesthofen’s fresh set of eyes, the team is focused on honing and perfecting their offerings, which Wuesthofen says makes it easier to operate and avoid some of the shortfalls happening as supply chain issues loom for the holidays.
“We’re not running out of anything right now, and there aren’t days we have to close because we don’t have staff,” Wuesthofen said. “Our focus this year is being in a position where people can just count on being able to come in here and we’ll have stuff. We’re not going to be closed any days because we couldn’t get staff. We’re doing things to keep our staff. We’ve upped our wages and I think that’s why we’ve been successful.”
Clasen’s is also looking to grow their shipping capabilities, making it easier to share delicious treats with foodies all over the country, items like cookies, chocolate, stollen bread, fruitcake and gingerbread houses. For those in the area, there will still be plenty of bread, morning buns, and other goodies well-stocked and ready for pick up.
“We have a wide selection of different products like quiche, breads, sweets, cakes, chocolates. We’re not a one-trick pony,” Clasen said.
The holidays are also when the bakery’s famous life-sized gingerbread house makes its appearance in store. Visitors can look forward to a fresh design this year and kids can once again explore the larger-than-life creation to enjoy a photo op and a cookie.
Clasen and her son are grateful for all the ways the community stepped up to support them over the past six decades, but especially in the last couple of years, ensuring the business survived and thrived through the pandemic.
“We saw very loyal people. Day 1 of the shutdown, it’s dark in here, I’m in my office and I still see cars coming through. So, I’m like ‘Oh boy, what do we do?’ So, we started selling the leftover bread from the wholesale production out the back door,” Clasen said. “I think Madison has always been a buy local supportive area, but I think the pandemic has just strengthened that so much more.”
As for the bakery’s future, Wuesthofen is hopeful: “It’s always keeping an eye on quality and making some more modern products. Right now, we’re just making sure everything is organized, maintaining the quality of what we have and looking toward building up more in the future.”
Clasen’s European Bakery
7610 Donna Dr., Middleton, WI
Monday-Saturday: 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m.