Head inside Bendtsen’s Bakery– where bakers average 2,000 kringles/day during the holidays!
The internet will tell you that a fresh kringle lasts about a week on the counter, but anyone who’s had one knows it’d be lucky to last until lunch. The large, flaky, oval-shaped pastry with a variety of fillings was first brought to Racine by Denmark immigrants in the 1800s and officially became Wisconsin’s State Pastry in 2013. Today, the prized treasure of break rooms and brunch spreads is still made by hand at Racine’s oldest bakery.
Born in 1905 in Odense, Denmark, baker Laurits Bendt Bendtsen immigrated to the United States in his 20’s. He landed first in Iowa and eventually made his way to Racine– already home to an established community of Danish-Americans. In 1934, Bendtsen bought a corner lot in Racine and the rest is history. 88 years later, Bendtsen’s Bakery still operates at its original location.
Today, the founder’s great-grandson, Bendt “Ben” Laurits Bendtsen III, is at the helm. Bendtsen’s was not the first kringle-making bakery in Racine, but it’s the only one to roll and fill the pastries entirely by hand– all 36 layers!
“Sometimes it’s five hours a day we’re just rolling dough, over and over and over,” Ben explained. The task falls to him and an assistant baker, John Feiner. That might not seem such an enormous task on their slowest days, when they produce as few as 100, but in the final six weeks of the year, that number jumps to 2,000/day. Shipping alone accounts for about 40,000 of those orders.
It takes 20 hours to make 2,000 pastries by hand, according to Ben, which means starting time for the bakers is typically 3 a.m. But in November, Ben and John come in before midnight – sometimes as early as 8 p.m. – and stay well into the morning after the storefront has opened at 6 a.m.
“The most I’ve ever worked in my life was maybe 121 hours in a week,” Ben remembered.
Ben took over from his father Bendt Bendtsen, Jr. who retired in 2016 but still “would come in during the holiday season and help out for three or four hours,” he says. “He liked to be around when we were busy. He had a lot of pride in it. It’s a fun atmosphere, just three or four guys making kringles in the middle of the night and having some laughs. It’s busy but fun at the same time.”
“My dad got me involved early, bringing me in here when I was six seven eight years old and got me helping sweeping or cleaning pans.” Ben knew how to make kringles by the time he was 14.
Bendtsen’s original flavors were the traditional almond and raisin. “Back in the 1950s you’d make two a day,” said Ben. “Donuts were really popular in the area, as well as certain specialty items only certain Danish people knew about.”
But in the late 60s and early 70s, popularity boomed with shipping and the advent of the internet. Bendtsen’s now offers 30 flavors throughout the year. So what’s the favorite?
“A really good pecan done right with the butterscotch in there and the flaky dough?” Ben answered, reluctantly. “It’s really hard to beat.”
Customers agree– it’s the best-seller.
“The community really supports us,” said Ben. “That makes it worthwhile. When the community really enjoys your place and you get a lot of compliments, you grab hold of that and it makes it a fun atmosphere.”
Sadly, the family lost Ben’s father in February 2022. But in one of life’s poignant moments, Ben and his wife Anna welcomed their first child, a daughter, soon after, and one can’t help but wonder about a fifth generation of bakers.
“You just want to keep it going. The pride of it, the history of it.”
Where to Find Wisconsin’s Best Kringles:
3200 Washington Ave, Racine, WI 53405
O&H Danish Bakery (5 locations)
4917 Douglas Ave, Racine, WI 53402
3311 Washington Ave, Racine, WI 53405
2529 Golf Ave, Racine, WI 53404
Best ordered online; no storefront
2999 E Mason St, Green Bay, WI 54311
2304 S Park St, Madison, WI 53713
243 E Main St, Stoughton, WI 53589