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Minneapolis’ iconic Keefer Court Bakery & Cafe is reopening under new ownership later this year at the Asia Mall in Eden Prairie.
The Chinese bakery’s Facebook page shared a post Monday announcing the development, which comes five months after it closed its sole location in the Minneapolis’ Cedar-Riverside neighborhood in December 2022.
The bakery’s new owners are Michael Bui, Mai Bui, and Peter Do, who own the Pho Mai Vietnamese restaurants located in the Asia Mall and Minneapolis’ Dinkytown neighborhood. Michael Bui expects the new Keefer Court to open in the next five to six months.
Michael Bui said he began discussions in March with Keefer Court’s original owner, Sunny Kwan, about purchasing the bakery and setting up a training plan for him to learn the recipes. They struck a deal Monday.
“It’ll be Keefer Court 2.0 basically,” said Bui, adding that the bakery’s look will be French-themed.
Bui and Michelle Kwan, whose parents Sunny and Paulina Kwan started Keefer Court, said the new iteration will include some of the shop’s staples and some new Vietnamese desserts.
“We’re really excited to see what Michael wants to bring in, in addition to the staples of Keefer,” said Michelle Kwan, who was co-owner of the bakery before it closed. “Traditional Keefer will be around, but having those additional changes, it’s going to be really exciting.”
The Facebook announcement elicited excitement from the bakery’s customers, who formed long lines in the cold to pick up its famous barbecue pork buns and other goods in the last days of its Minneapolis operation.
“I could cry!!!!!” one woman commented on the post. “Thank you!!!!!”
“Don’t play with my feelings cause I might die!!” another fan wrote.
For many Asian Americans and other locals, the family-owned bakery was a favorite destination for Vietnamese desserts, Chinese pastries, and savory Hong Kong-style dishes that included noodles, soups, and congee. Many thought of it as a home away from home when they moved to Minneapolis to study abroad or live.
“To see the comeback taking place — especially in the center where it’s already serving the community at a higher level, which is the Asia Mall – it’s pretty exciting,” said Osmund Dris, one of the leasing partners at Asia Mall.
Keefer Court will be located on the mall’s first floor to the right of the entrance, he said.
‘Their legacy continues’
Michael Bui became a regular customer at Keefer Court when he was a college student in 1992. He would get the ham & egg buns for breakfast and barbecue pork buns for lunch. Later, his kids became fans of the coconut buns.
Bui approached Michelle Kwan during the planning stages of Asia Mall to see if she would consider relocating Keefer Court there. The mall opened in November 2022.
“But nothing ever came about that,” he said.
A bakery seemed to be the missing piece at the Asia Mall, Bui said.
“We’ve heard a lot of feedback from a lot of the Asia Mall customers visiting, saying, ‘Where’s your bakery? You have everything else here — seafood, roast duck, roast pork, pho, but there’s no Asian bakery,’” Bui said.
The mall owners helped Bui contact Sunny Kwan two months ago, reigniting the conversation about bringing Keefer Court to the mall. Bui will train with Sunny Kwan over the next five to six months to learn “all the bakery recipes and knowledge.”
The Kwans will work closely with Bui for the first couple of months and act as advisors.
Michelle Kwan said several people approached her about buying Keefer Court after it closed. But, she said, the potential buyers weren’t a good fit for a number of reasons. However, Bui’s background in restaurants and close connections to Asia Mall “made us realize it was a serious offer,” Kwan said.
“A big part of my heart was feeling really guilty for closing down the bakery and knowing that the community is going to have such a big loss,” she said. “But when Michael approached us, I was kind of willing to relinquish those rights to Keefer, because I knew that he had that drive to want to keep Keefer going.”
Her parents also felt more at ease about transferring ownership to Bui because he had been a loyal customer of theirs for 30 years.
“Their legacy continues,” Bui said. “They’ve worked so hard to build up a great restaurant, name, reputation, and now we’re able to take it to the next level and keep it going.”
A family business
Sunny Kwan grew up baking in Hong Kong before moving to Canada to work as a cook in 1973. He opened his first bakery in Chicago in 1980. When he heard from a friend that Minnesota needed a Chinese bakery, he took a leap of faith and settled in Minneapolis’ West Bank neighborhood to start Keefer Court with his wife, Paulina.
Sunny and Paulina centered their menu on Hong Kong-style staples. In the late 1980s, the couple added a restaurant that served dim sum, noodles, and congee rice porridge, but later closed it to focus on the bakery. In the early 2000s, the family brought the restaurant back because of “popular demand,” Sunny said in an interview last year.
Michelle Kwan was drawn to baking at an early age and eventually took over Keefer Court in 2017 when her parents wanted to slowly phase into retirement. She introduced new pastries to the bakery, including vegan and gluten-free options, and said she knows what it’s like for customers to be wary of change.
She urged the bakery’s fans to embrace the transfer of ownership and the inevitable change it will bring.
“They [the new owners]are going to do their best, and we’re going to do our best to teach them everything that we know, so that they can continue to carry that same quality, at least with the traditional stuff of Keefer,” Kwan said. “But also I want to let customers know, keep an open mind and be open to some of the changes that he is going to bring in the evolution of this new Keefer Court.”
The original bakery closed its doors in Minneapolis last year when a local buyer offered to purchase the building from Sunny and Paulina Kwan, presenting them an opportunity to retire. Michelle Kwan told Sahan Journal last year that her parents worked long hours, which “couldn’t last forever.”
“I’m really excited to see what Michael’s going to do with it,” she said Tuesday. “I think that Michael’s business sense is really what the next iteration of Keefer needed.”
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on May 9 in the Sahan Journal.
It was written by Katelyn Vue, the housing reporter for Sahan Journal. Vue can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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