Dorothy Ann Is an Old-fashioned Bakery With Deep Local Roots

As Joan and Steve Conway can attest, there are no days off in the bakery business. Since 1988, the husband and wife team has owned and operated Dorothy Ann Bakery, which is well-known and well-loved throughout the Woodbury community for its family-friendly ambiance, warm customer service and array of delicious baked goods. The Conways work hard to make it all happen. On any given day of the week, their team is busy filling orders, serving customers and, of course, making lots of sweet treats. It’s demanding work, but the Conways say it’s rewarding, and they have no plans to switch careers any time soon.

Dorothy Ann has a long, storied history and deep roots in the Twin Cities. Joan’s dad, Wally Grochowski, entered the baking business in the mid 1940s, after returning home to Minnesota from World War II. He ran his own bakery, Wally’s Pastries, on Rice Street in St. Paul for several years and then decided to expand. In 1951, he bought a bakery from Ed Durin, who had named it after his wife, Dorothy Ann. Grochowski kept the name and grew the business, eventually coming to own four different bakeries throughout the Twin Cities east metro.

“[Dad] was always going to have four bakeries, and he got thinking that each one of his kids was going to have a bakery, too,” says Joan Conway. But she’s the only one of Growchowski’s four children to continue in the family business, having taken over the reins in the late 1980s. It remains a family affair, too—the Conways’ daughter, Colleen Cicalello, works at the bakery full-time.

Dorothy Ann has had a number of homes throughout the years. Grochowski moved the operation from St. Paul’s East Seventh Street to the then-new Sun Ray Shopping Center in 1962. In 1988, Joan and Steve brought it to Woodbury. Since 2005, it has stood in the Crossroads Commerce Center, a location that the Conways say is perfect given that the bakery boasts both a retail store and a café.

With the most demanding days always falling on the weekend, the bakery business is a hectic one. Steve says that it’s a lifestyle. During the week, “we gear up, and we’re busier than heck every Friday and Saturday of the year.” On holiday weekends, the team might be working up to 15 hours a day. Although it quiets down a bit near the start of the week—“Monday is kind of a recovery day for us,” Steve says—there is still plenty to keep them busy.

Dorothy Ann’s head baker, Lizy Barton, has worked at the bakery for 16 years. She started when she was still a teenager, working behind the counter to serve customers after school and on weekends. Now she works behind-the-scenes, supervising a team of three other bakers, and her shifts start while most people are still asleep. She’s up well before sunrise each day, typically at the bakery somewhere around 3 a.m. She notes that 4 a.m. is “a later start.”

For Barton, baking is straightforward—and she’s become a master over the years—but figuring out precisely what to bake is a bit more complicated. “The biggest challenge is trying to predict what we’re going to sell in a day,” she says. “How many donuts are we going to go through? Are we going to run out of cookies or run out of breads?” She uses figures from the prior week to estimate and strives to have backups of everything, so disappointing customers when their favorite treat is gone rarely, if ever, happens.

Barton says that she loves how close-knit the Dorothy Ann team is. “I like that it’s a family business, and you really get the sense that it’s one big family here. You’re not just working for a boss.” Joan and Steve Conway genuinely care about their employees, and Barton says that, especially after 16 years, she considers them to be “my second parents.”

When it comes to baked goods, Barton says the bread is a classic. “There’s not any one kind,” she says. “We have our Vienna bread and white bread every day, and we usually do two to three different kinds, either a wheat bread or a grain bread, every day, too.” But, there’s no wrong choice at Dorothy Ann either. As Barton says, “everything we make is really good.”

In addition to the breads, Dorothy Ann makes and serves plenty of other baked goods. Popular items include chocolate cream-filled cupcakes and paczkis, which are a traditional Polish donut. Paczkis are typically served right before Mardi Gras, but at Dorothy Ann, they’re so popular that they’re available every Friday all year long. “Our customers really enjoy them,” Steve says. “There are many different flavors.”

Although Joan and Steve keep on top of trends in baking, they are an old-fashioned bakery through and through. People are generally moving toward smaller and more health-conscious items, but the Conways say that shouldn’t deter customers from their bakery. “Because we are an old-fashioned bakery, we still use wonderful, fresh ingredients,” Joan says. “We like to tell people that, truthfully, it’s better to get stuff from a bakery than for them to be buying those grab and go bars for breakfast.” They have plenty of breads that have no eggs, sugar or shortening, so no matter your diet, there’s something at Dorothy Ann to satisfy your cravings.

This year marked Dorothy Ann’s 65th anniversary, and Joan and Steve have no plans to retire any time soon. They love their jobs, and say that it’s ultimately the people who make the hard work and long hours worthwhile. “We get a lot of satisfaction when people are genuinely happy with what we do and people coming because they want to come here, because they have to make a special trip,” Steve says.

Whether they get to know customers by name or just by recognizing a friendly face, Joan and Steve enjoy seeing and serving Woodbury residents, and they strive to make Dorothy Ann a welcoming place. “We try to hire nice, warm, caring people,” Steve says. “That’s kind of the way we are, and I think people enjoy that.”  

Colleen’s Creations

Dorothy Ann is a family business, which is reflected in everything from its history to its staff—Joan and Steve’s daughter, Colleen Cicalello, also works at the bakery and has since she was a kid.  “They would have my brother and me come on holidays a lot,” she remembers. “We would cut strawberries during Easter for strawberry pies.” Her responsibilities have changed a lot since those days, but she still loves being a part of the family business.

Her official role, she says, is hard to pin down. Like anyone in a small business, she wears a lot of different hats. Each day, she’s busy managing social media and marketing, handling customer service interactions, meeting with future brides and grooms during wedding cake consultations, and much more. The biggest part of Cicalello’s job, however, is cake decorating. She estimates that she decorates about 95 percent of the cakes that come through the bakery, in addition to the cupcakes and cookies.  “I say if it has frosting on it, it comes through me,” Cicalello says.

“I learned a lot from my mother, and I learned on the job, too,” she says of where she developed her skills. “I used to be afraid of trying to draw a frog, or trying to draw a cat or dog, but just like anything, you have to keep practicing and figure it out.” Online tutorials helped her out, along with swapping tips with other bakers at conventions. She also hosts regular classes to share her knowledge. Check the website for details on future classes.

Although her job is busy, Cicallelo says that she loves what she does. “I don’t ever feel like I get bored at work, because it’s always onto the next thing,” she says. “There’s always something new to look forward to.”