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Omaha Magazine

Shandy's Swedish Bakery: Filling Your Soul With Happiness

Dec 21, 2023 11:11AM ● By Holly McAtee
chef profile Shandy's Swedish Bakery january february 2024

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

Listen to this article here. Audio Provided by Radio Talking Book Service.

Located in the northeastern tip of the state, Wausa, Nebraska, is a tiny town. It’s so tiny, in fact, that according to the US census, only 634 called it home in 2010. Shandy Thorell was one of those people. Growing up in such a small community, though, gave her an unexpected edge—or rather, a roll. It’s where her family taught her how to deftly wield a rolling pin to recreate her dearly treasured heritage recipes that she now shares with the public at her West Omaha business, Shandy’s Swedish Bakery.

And these recipes are unlike any other offerings on the market.

“The Swedes want to fill your soul with happiness through their food,” Thorell averred. “Food speaks to your soul, your memory, and your mind. It must taste good, but it also must bring wonderful feelings.” 

Those wonderful feelings are often the result of Nordic know-how. Thorell’s Swedish rye contains molasses and brown sugar, so it boasts a sweeter, richer flavor, while her Scandinavian almond cake (the item, she said, that put the bakery on Omaha’s foodie map) is a dense, rich pound cake. Shandy’s distinctive “Kransekake” cakes, particularly beloved in Sweden during Christmas, boast 12 decorative almond cake rings stacked in the shape of a festive tree. 

That dedication to Swedish heritage is what distinguishes Thorell’s bakery. There are no cases full of generic cupcakes and cookies, and the shop only produces a limited selection of carefully chosen breads, cookies, and cinnamon rolls. In October, for example, Thorell spent six days making 435 circles of lefsa, traditional Scandinavian flatbread made from potato dough.

“I am potatoed out,” Thorell joked on Shandy’s Facebook page. The image she shared of baking racks stacked with perfect rounds of lefsa showed exactly why she might never want to peel another spud. 

But the effort—and any upper arm soreness from rolling out so many circles of dough—is more than worth it for Thorell.

“When you walk into my shop, you walk into a Swedish mother’s kitchen with all the love, smells, and memories that brings,” she said. “We strive to connect with people in ways that aren’t just food. My customers tell me their joys and struggles. I want to be there for their lives. I think that is why my customers are loyal and continue to come back.”

That “Swedish mother’s kitchen” is literal for Thorell, who learned to bake at the elbows of both grandmothers and her mother. She made dinner rolls with one grandmother, German chocolate cake with another. Her mother taught her the intricacies of cinnamon and caramel rolls.

“Growing up, food was always part of special times with my family, and it is with my kids, too,” Thorell said, emphasizing that if the family had planned a special occasion, special food accompanied it.

Although Thorell always loved baking, her business began out of necessity. She had been in the corporate world in HR but left to focus on raising her four children. In 2014, her family was struggling to pay the bills, and there wasn’t enough money to put food on the table. Thorell took to baking cinnamon rolls that the kids sold door-to-door out of a little red wagon.

The on-the-side baking business quickly grew beyond its portable storefront. Soon, Thorell was selling her products at farmers markets. In 2018, she opened her brick-and-mortar bakery. Years later, she still sells her baked goods at farmer’s markets.

Today, her children continue to help. The older ones, now young adults, return home during school breaks to help in the bakery at the height of  the busy holiday season. “We are working, but it is family time,” Thorell said. “We play Christmas music and hang lights in the store. It’s a fun time for me.”

Loyal customer Marilyn Frohloff has been adding Thorell’s baked goods to her regular shopping rounds since the latter was selling out of her little red wagon. Frohloff heard about Shandy’s from a friend and began getting treats for her clients during the holidays. Frohloff is particularly fond of  the breads, cinnamon rolls, and pumpkin twinkies—and she always makes certain to serve the bakery's dinner rolls for the holidays.

“First of all, she makes everything from scratch,” Frohloff said. “Everything tastes so good. She puts her whole heart into it and is a sweet lady and puts a lot of effort into satisfying the customers.”

Frohloff especially admires Thorell’s dedication. “I like the way she taught her children to earn to make a living,” she said. “They have all worked hard to make it work. She is a hard worker and a dear lady…She’s a neat Christian lady, and I enjoy supporting this local business.”

Thorell’s faith remains at the heart of her business’s success. Despite the challenges she’s faced, she believes that there was a bigger plan for her. The baker cares deeply about her customers, and she has developed strong bonds with many of them. As she creates custom orders for her clients to help with a time of loss or to commemorate a joy, she prays over the dough for them.

“I’m a big faith person,” Thorell said. “There is our plan and God’s plan. When you try to do your plan, sometimes it’s a struggle. As soon as you try to do His plan it takes off. That is what happened in my life.”

For more information, visit shandysbakery.com.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2024 issue of Omaha Magazine. To subscribe, click here. 

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

 

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