Paul Holje

Grand Forks, North Dakota, United States

Baker, Pastry Chef, Bakery Owner

Dakota Harvest

Isn’t the point of a bakery to make everyone feel like a kid again? Food can create such a bond between people, that’s why sharing a meal and breaking bread is a spiritual experience in most parts of the world. My dream is to keep pushing for a deeper connection between farmers and diners. Wouldn’t it be great to know the name of the farmer and baker your meal came from?

We opened Dakota Harvest Bakers in 2006 and have 24 Employees, six of them full-time bakers. Our team has bread bakers, pastry chefs, sandwich and soup makers, and people who can do a little bit of everything. We have one location in downtown Grand Forks, but wholesale to many local coffee shops & restaurants.

In addition to baking, we have a parallel business called Dakota Harvest Builders where we explore natural building methods, especially straw bale construction. These forms of building have been around for over a century and are more environmentally sensitive and energy efficient than traditional construction techniques. The idea is, we get the wheat from the farmer to bake our bread and the straw from their fields to build our homes.


I grew up on a small grains farm near Maddock, North Dakota. I spent my youth driving tractors, hauling grain, and learning about the land from my Dad. The whole family worked in our huge gardens planting and tending potatoes, corn, beans, carrots, and tomatoes. My Mom taught me that cooking and baking are skills are important. These early family lessons firmly influence our business.

After leaving the family farm, I went on to become a licensed architect in Minnesota and North Dakota. I spent 10 years working full time doing commercial work, but felt inspired to broaden my vision for what I could do. We started Dakota Harvest Bakers since we are foodies, loved baking, and enjoyed hosting parties. I moved from a large firm to being my own boss. I'm not a cog in wheel, but captain of my ship. I'm sort of a jack-of-all trades type person, so being able to do everything is my style.

Our business has been very successful. Our sales have increased every year, beating our projections. We've been honored to receive many community awards, including the Corporate Supporter of the Arts Award from the North Valley Arts Council, the local Small Business of the Year Nominee, and the 2011 S.C.O.R.E. Business of the Year for Grand Forks.

I feel like I’ve gotten my MBA since opening Dakota Harvest. I’ve learned so much about running a business. I do all of our own marketing, website design, graphics, payroll, taxes, recipe development, baking (from breads to pastries and so much more). I manage our finances daily including managing supplies, equipment, and wholesale contacts.

I really like being my own boss. The pressure is on you to succeed, but it always means that I feel really proud of our successes. You create everything from how fun the culture of the business is to your impact socially and environmentally in your community.

The key to happiness is finding the opportunities to enjoy your day. Whether it be creating a new recipe, playing with your dog, or truly accepting a compliment from a customer. Be in the moment - if you can't enjoy the moment, you will not be a happy person.

We’re known in our town as “The Bakery.” It’s neat to be center of the life for a lot of people. I enjoy being able to shine the spot light on the produce and farm ingredients we get directly from local farmers.

You can decide to work in or own bakery for many reasons. Perhaps you enjoy cooking. If so, then you will need to partner with someone who enjoys business or hire someone to run the business side. If you like doing it all like me, then you will need help with the cooking side, because it takes a team to cook large volumes of food. If you've got the talent for food, I think a solid year of good planning will get your on your way. Owning a bakery takes specialized equipment, locations, and remodeling to be successful.

I am more than happy to share with you all I’ve learned about marketing, taxes, payroll, and the general behind the scenes elements of running a business that you don't hear about. I can share my knowledge to help you.