“I’m a huge proponent of bakery,” says Andy Mooney.
With 20 years of baking and a culinary degree from The French Pastry School under his apron strings, you’ll usually find Mooney in the kitchen, dusted with flour, whipping up a fresh batch of croissants.
He estimates—conservatively—that he’s made millions in his lifetime. But when he’s not doing that, or developing the Red Bench brand that’s become a staple in Chaska and is now building a following in Excelsior, he’s talking up other bakeries to anyone who will listen. If a regular is about to take a trip—be it to Phoenix or Plymouth—he’s the first to offer a favorite local go-to.
“I’m constantly recommending other great spots. I love raising awareness of the industry in general,” he says, admitting he has a bit of a European bent to his culinary preferences. While he appreciates a perfectly executed flaky pastry, he also loves what bakeries do for communities. Before his family first opened Red Bench in 2017—their first foray into running their own bakery—he pictured something that was akin to the homey, communal, open-air French bakeries he remembered from trips abroad. In that culture, people don’t run to giant grocery stores for everything. And they don’t just go to a baker. They have their baker, and a day doesn’t start without a run down the street for fresh bread. Once in the door, they don’t just grab and go. They linger over an espresso, chit-chat with the neighbors, and catch up on soccer scores and gossip. Bread becomes the basis of almost every meal and the genesis of many a conversation. That’s the vision for the Red Bench brand.
The name, Mooney admits, doesn’t have quite as sexy a story. It was tossed around by his family as a nod to Mooney’s red hair and the wooden table—a workbench of sorts—where bread is typically kneaded and formed. “Red Bench Bakery” just stuck, and yes, both the Chaska store and the one in Excelsior have red benches anchoring their aesthetic. Excelsior’s is placed prominently outside the front door, right on Water Street. And those benches—like bread in general—have become symbols of something more.
When the Chaska store opened, there was a huge showing of the local French and European community. Mooney would have new visitors stop in and say, gleefully, “This is exactly the kind of place we would go to in France!” Sales and line length aside, that’s when he knew he’d been successful. So when Patisserie Margo closed its doors in Excelsior in December, the Red Bench family knew it could be the next right spot for the brand to expand. And the vibe—they knew, without a doubt—would be reminiscent of the one that’s taken off so well in Chaska. They decided to keep bakery production in Chaska, where there’s already a large industrial kitchen, and renovate the smallish space to accommodate more seating and add a cleaner, modern design.
Mooney and his team noticed that while there’s often a line out the door at 6 a.m. in Chaska, Excelsior doesn’t wake up quite as early—and business flows well into the afternoon, especially in summer, when locals come off their boats looking for a late lunch. They’ve added more savory lunch options to the menu—including soups, salads, and sandwiches, like their famous chicken salad sandwich. That comes flavored with tarragon, dried apricots and salty, crunchy cashews. Since opening at the end of May, the team has kept a close eye on what’s selling and when, so they can tweak the hours and production schedules to best fit the new community.
They’ve also loved becoming a part of the tight-knit business community on Water Street, where the chamber of commerce is on top of planning and marketing events designed to bring the town together. Mooney can rattle off scores of nearby business owners who are or have become friends. There’s truly a culture of “we’re in it together,” he says. Mooney’s brother-in-law Andrew Aske is a co-owner and manager of the Excelsior spot.