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Starting Fresh

How two bakers took a family business to new levels.



Mary, Kevin and Michael Olesen (left to right), often bake through the night to have treats hot and ready for tomorrow's Early Birds.

Alex Stafford

On an early fall morning, a small Danish bakery in the corner of a Bonita Springs plaza is already buzzing. By 8 a.m., customers are lined up inside, sizing up the bevy of treats encased at the counter. The blended scent of piping hot coffee, cinnamon and fresh-baked goods is warm and inviting like a family member’s home during the holidays. And that’s exactly the way co-owner Kevin Olesen likes it.

Olesen, with his father, Michael, built the business on family traditions. The fourth-generation baker got his start in the industry early on, baking with his dad at his grandfather’s shop, O&H Danish Bakery, in Racine, Wisconsin.

“I remember I decided this was what I wanted to do when I was about 16 years old working summers in the back baking,” Olesen says. “I had just finished making these rolls and a little girl got one, bit into it and almost started tearing up.”

From then, Olesen’s goal was to instill that enthusiasm in others. But he forwent the expected route of staying with the established family bakery, now owned by his uncle.

“I always wanted
to start my own [bakery] and feel the success that’s only achieved from starting small and working your way back up,” he says.

It made sense to do so in Southwest Florida, where his dad had relocated.

The father-son duo launched Sweet Odin’s Danish Bakery in 2012 armed with authentic family recipes and original concepts. Baking came easily. Generating revenue from a startup in a foreign area proved challenging.

“As a fourth-generation up-and-comer I was taught: ‘Here are the numbers; here’s how to keep them going.’ No one ever taught me how to start them from scratch,” Olesen says.

The Small Business Development Center at Florida Gulf Coast University helped the Olesens formulate a business plan, obtain a start-up loan and pre- pare for unexpected things, like the lengthy amount of time it takes from acquiring a business to opening it and the capital needed to stay afloat in between.

Another struggle? Attaining ingredients. Everything at Sweet Odin’s is made fresh from scratch, from the filling inside the flaky pastries to the vanilla icing that tops them.

Importing about 40 percent of the bakery’s ingredients is pricey, but it evidently makes all the difference to customers.

In its first year of business, the bakery grew about 25 percent of its client base, Olesen says. It rose to 15 percent the next year and 20 percent in 2015. The team—which in addition to Olesen and his father includes his mother, Mary, wife, Angi, and some 17 employees—promotes the brand at area farmers’ markets by selling signature items such as its kringle and letting the public know about its extra accommodations.

“We’re the type of bakery that if you say
‘I love this roll, but can you change this for me or top it a different way,’ or ‘I need 15 dozen by tomorrow and I want them fresh,’ that’s what we do,” Olesen says.

The bakery also delivers free within a 10-miles radius and $1 each mile after that. Olesen recently ran a Danish wedding cake up to Ocala. “It was a gift from somebody up north and [the couple] loved it. It was a fun situation,” he says.

Sometimes going the extra mile results in sweet success. 

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