Once upon a time, it all began, as any good baking story should, when bakers begin things: in the wee small hours, 2, 3 o’clock in the morning. It all began in a blizzard during those small hours, well before, as all Minnesotans know, the plows make the world safe for commuters—the hours when you still cannot see as far as the ditch to know if it’s full of cars or merely snow or even, in the worst storms, full of snowplows.
Peering out the window of her Minneapolis apartment in that fateful blizzard of 2019, pastry chef Rachel Anderson studied the snow. Then she looped her brown hair into a ponytail, stepped into her boots, swept her car clean, and headed west for the slow hour-long drive to Wayzata for her shift at Bellecour Bakery. She set out beneath streetlights caught in bright snowballs that let out little light; she set out into the black curves and drifts. Bellecour was locked. Before she could start her workday, she first needed to drive and rescue the guy with the key.
Customers think we’re goddesses, she thought to herself, hunched over the steering wheel, nosing through the drifts. In reality? We are Vikings.
And there, in the midst of wind and snow, the hottest bakery of the moment was born—the bakery that’s now revolutionizing the biggest pie day of the year in terms of butter, flour, and justice.
Anderson had always been a Viking. When she met her husband, Yoji Moro, the two were young food workers toiling nights in a Brooklyn food commissary. Anderson was the only employee out of dozens trusted to operate the erratic elevator. “It would electrocute you if you touched metal,” she explains. Why her? “Let’s just say I’m scrappy,” she says. Scrappy and unflappable. Anderson’s parents ran medical clinics in Haiti from 2006 to 2020, and when she visited them, they set her up in the role for people who don’t quiver in crisis: working triage out in a field tent. When she’s not baking, she’s a goalie for a serious Ecuadorian women’s soccer team, happy in that high-pressure spot in the net.
She also has delicate pastry technique and a fine palate, which, when she and Moro moved here in 2013, instantly helped her blaze a career through the most important pie purveyors of the Twin Cities. She baked for two years at Revival, perfecting the biscuits and making the famous banana cream pie. She made local-berry pies at The Bachelor Farmer and patted and poured a great number of the famous Birchwood key lime pies during her three stints at the locavore pioneer.
All the while, she did what people generally fear Vikings are doing: She was noticing that the entire system as we know it could probably be burned to the ground and rebuilt better. You know, just all the labor and organizational principles and customer access and ingredients, mainly.
Anderson and her husband had big plans when they relocated to the Twin Cities after a tour through Brooklyn and Manhattan kitchens of note, including, for her, Al di la Trattoria, Robicelli’s, Back Forty, and Ovenly, and for him, a career behind the scenes running nonprofits followed by a pivot into food at the charcuterie maker Brooklyn Cured. “We knew if we wanted to do our own thing, we needed to do it outside the big-money world of New York,” explains Moro, who grew up in Staten Island, youngest son of a Japanese mom who spent days being polished and pretty behind a jewelry store counter and nights at the cutting board beside her son, putting Japanese home cooking on the table. “We actually came here to do something like an amazing grocery store,” recalls Moro. “Whole-animal charcuterie; nice, prepared foods ready to go. I’m not totally ready to give up on that—you might see it one day.”
Moro found work in elite restaurant kitchens as soon as they arrived, taking up a key position behind the cooking line first at Sea Change, under Jamie Malone, and then jumping to Gavin Kaysen’s hotter-than-the-sun restaurant Spoon and Stable, where he led the charcuterie program. Moro was at Spoon when they made the switch from ordinary flour to locally grown, locally milled, super-fresh Baker’s Field flour. If you’ve never had local, super-fresh flour, please know: It’s like the difference between a fresh basil leaf and a dried one, an orchard apple just off the tree and a long-stored one. (“Flour starts dying as soon as it’s milled,” Moro notes.)
When the two came to Minneapolis on a scouting trip for where to relocate to launch their dream, they ate at Butcher and the Boar, where they thought the most memorable dish was the bread basket’s side of Hope Creamery butter. Hope is a local butter fresh as tulips in May, richer and sweeter than anything you can get internationally, and consequently hotly prized by local chefs.
The Viking at the table took note of these two killer ingredients and began playing with them in the kitchen, discovering that the combination of Baker’s Field flour and Hope butter made delicious pie crust and croissant dough, even in big batches. “Making a good pie crust at scale is really hard,” says Anderson, with the satisfaction of having done something incredibly difficult that few will understand was difficult.
In 2019, Vikings and Goddesses went from a grim thought in a blizzard to a reality. That summer, Anderson filed Vikings and Goddesses paperwork to register the name, and she and Moro leased space in a shared commissary kitchen for test runs for farmers’ markets.
By the fall, however, legendary bakery Salty Tart, in its spot next to Tim McKee’s restaurant Octo, was shutting down, and McKee invited Vikings and Goddesses to move in, like a new hermit crab walking into a very good shell. At first Vikings and Goddesses was essentially the pastry supplier to Octo and some of McKee’s contacts. (To this day, they make the special desserts for the steak house Manny’s.)
Then came the plague. You know the March 2020 story. Everything shut down, including Octo, including Spoon. No one knew for how long.
Moro and Anderson figured they would be OK, eventually, though their next step would likely be starting over in fresh kitchens. “How many times can you start out at $10 an hour, $14, and rebuild your life?” Anderson recalls wondering. They particularly felt pain and anger as they thought of their highly skilled immigrant bakers who they knew were in the same boat but also had kids to feed.
“We took basically a week to wallow and wonder,” Anderson says. “Then it was all, ‘Let’s get our cooks some hours, let’s get our people some food, let’s do everything the way we want to do it, let’s burn it all down and start over, let’s go.’”
Moro joined Anderson as a partner. By the time Easter 2020 arrived, Vikings and Goddesses had risen from the pandemic ashes to do everything differently.
They debuted a rare bakery employment model: All full-time employees on salary with family leave and sick time. They debuted a new business model: You order a pie online, and bakers bring it to your house or you can pick it up from them, either at the farmers’ market, at different retail pickup spots, or at the Marshall Avenue bakery headquarters they moved into in October 2020. You could say they now run things like a Viking ship where everyone in the crew gets a cut, not like a brigade kitchen with a general up top and servants below. “We have no incentive to cut hours. We have every incentive to just take care of each other and push,” says Moro.
And this is how I got an eye-popping, giddy-making box of treasures, and you can too. Vikings and Goddesses is the star of Mill City Farmers Market, winter and summer, and the team wheels in a wide array of baked goods every Saturday for browsing customers. However, the most reliable way to get the good stuff, and to avoid being scooped by someone who woke up earlier than you, is to preorder pre-Friday on the website, and then they pack everything up and have it waiting for you.
One inauspicious day I did just that, working my way through the weekly offerings—usually half a dozen pies and some number of croissants, Danish, and special treats. I started picking slices of pie, oblivious to the fact that I ended up ordering six! Vikings and Goddesses cuts pies into six generous slices; if you order six slices, the team slides them together into a box to create one beautiful Frankenstein pie.
Of course, I also got some croissants and can put into the permanent record that I think the Vikings and Goddesses croissants and Danish are spectacular—they’re so deeply flavored with the good flour and butter.
But it was the pie that was pure treasure. Like the dragon Smaug upon his gold hoard, let me rave about my treasures! A slice of sweet corn custard pie of such foamy buoyancy, such pure and intense sweet corn flavor that I wanted to shake it to see if ears of corn magically bounced out. A “bluebarb” crisp is made of fat rhubarb chunks and inky swells of blueberries. The cookies and cream is Anderson’s smash-up of her Italian restaurant training and her love of pie—it’s basically a fancy mascarpone-rich tiramisu, but made with whisky, poured into a pie shell, and covered with chocolate chip cookie chunks. Get it. A carrot coconut turmeric custard was bonfire-bright and reminded me exactly of a pumpkin pie that got lighter, and more tart and interesting, after a vacation abroad. The apple pie is chunky and real and given dimension, but not airs, by caramelizing the apples in a pan with sugar before cooking. The key lime? The textbook version of itself. (The Vikings and Goddesses pumpkin pie only comes out to play for Thanksgiving and avoids cliché with spices steeped in coffee and chocolate-covered espresso beans.)
Like a dragon, like a queen, like a Viking with plunder, I hovered over my treasure box, stabbing and cackling. People can just do this! I marveled. We can just get pie—with crusts that have the bready fragrance of fresh wheat, the flavor of fresh butter, fillings made by the best in the business—and all the while know that the people who made the pies are doing it in a system that supports their whole lives?
On Thanksgiving, Vikings and Goddesses will make and sell 1,000 pies. (Thanksgiving is the most important pie day of the year, of course. Pi Day, in March, is second. Labor Day, surprisingly, is third, and Christmas fourth.) For Thanksgiving, Vikings and Goddesses will open its internet shopping cart in late October, start caramelizing apples in mid-November, par-bake pie crusts all month, and operate just about around the clock until the Wednesday morning before Thanksgiving. Then the team will spend all day dropping off pies at pickup sites and handing pies over to customers at its Marshall Avenue location (they’re hoping to finish construction of an official pie-customer window by the holiday).
By Thanksgiving Eve, they’ll have made Thanksgiving nice for, say, a gazillion of your neighbors? I’m just guesstimating: a thousand pies, eight slices per pie (when you’re not making generous baker’s slices), some people will buy two pies, factor in, divide by—but wait. Who can really count the amount of happy, the amount of gratitude, the amount of connection 1,000 pies make on Thanksgiving?
Anderson and Moro have no Thanksgiving plans, yet—maybe a hotel dinner if they have the energy, maybe bubble baths and quiet. On the day of the fateful car ride through the blizzard, Anderson returned home to a bubble bath. “I remember sinking into the bubbles and saying, ‘I can be both things. I can be the person who gets sh*t done, and the person who’s celebrated for getting sh*t done. I can be both things; I forged that path.’” A Viking and a goddess.
Now, says Anderson, she and Moro are also forging another duality. “We can treat our employees like stars and be stars too.”
This duality—that’s really what’s special about Vikings and Goddesses. It’s a bakery unafraid to ask, “What if every pie can hold all the dreams? Locavore sourcing, bakers who are treated well, dazzling creations to share with family and neighbors—all of it?”
This Thanksgiving, ask yourself, “What is pie made of?” The sun on the wheat, the grass feeding the cows, the apple trees planted long ago, the skill and the passion of a baker. But does pie also come from the things inside we’re afraid to name? Is pie also made of being brave, and trying to be fair, and giving yourself permission to accept applause and be the hero of your own saga, and everything that makes a year, and everything that makes a life?
2036 Marshall Ave., St. Paul, vikingsandgoddessespiecompany.com