When Covid Throws You Lemons, Make…Pop Tarts?

emily lauer at farmers market

Pastry lovers throughout the Twin Cities know to check Instagram every Monday morning for the most important post of the week: the Fruit & Grain Bakery menu. For many, the small bakery’s colorful pop tarts have been sprinkle-laden bursts of joy during a very difficult year.

Fruit & Grain Bakery grew out of owner Emily Lauer’s love for pie. Minnesota has a cottage food law that allows the sale of certain homemade baked goods, so Lauer registered as a cottage food producer a few years ago and set up shop at local farmer’s markets.

However, she quickly realized that selling full-sized pies wasn’t going to work. Customers preferred something small that they could eat easily on the spot. Instead, she applied her pastry skills to a product that’s typically mass produced: pop tarts.

“There’s something nostalgic about them — I was a 90s kid,” she says. “When you were home alone after school, that’s what you hoped would be in the cabinet.”

Lauer’s pop tarts are a delight to behold. Made with flaky layers of pastry and homemade fillings, they’re topped with vibrant icing and colorful sprinkles. While strawberry is the bestseller, the rotating menu has featured other fruit flavors like blueberry lemon curd and mango ginger, plus seasonal flavors like pumpkin spice mocha and chocolate candy cane.

fruit and grain pop tarts

Photo by MPLS Nibbles

Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically impacted Fruit & Grain — in a good way.

“Since the majority of my sales were at farmers markets, I was nervous when the pandemic hit,” says Lauer. “I didn’t know what to do. Then I realized it was getting to be nice out, I could just have people come contact-free and pick up [their orders] in my front yard.”

Lauer started posting a menu on her Instagram page every Monday. Customers messaged her to place their orders and picked up their pastries from her Minneapolis home during an assigned time slot the following Friday.

“It was immediately super popular,” she says. “The first few months were the best sales months I’ve ever had. It offered people something to do; everyone was stuck at home besides healthcare workers. Even healthcare workers, they would come to grab boxes of treats to bring to work. It offered comfort and a sense of normalcy in a way that felt safe.”

fall pop tarts

Photo by Stacy Brooks

Eventually, Fruit & Grain outgrew Lauer’s home kitchen (“You can only do so much with one oven with three racks!”), and in October she transitioned to baking at Northern Coffeeworks, a coffee shop and cafe in downtown Minneapolis.

Pop tarts are now available in the cafe’s pastry case daily, although customers can still place pre-orders to guarantee they’ll get their hands on the weekly specials. In addition to pop tarts, items on the ever-changing menu include personal-sized galettes, savory hand pies and cookies. Lauer is also pursuing her original passion: she has also sold 200 full-sized pies during the pandemic.

Her partnership with Northern Coffeeworks is going well, but Lauer is already looking ahead to the future: “Sales are always going up — I’d love to have my own cafe, the whole deal.”

AUTHOR

Stacy Brooks

Stacy Brooks is a Minneapolis-based freelance journalist focusing on food and travel. Her writing has been published in Hemispheres, Midwest Living and Wine Enthusiast, and she blogs at Tangled Up In Food.

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