Invented by alumnus H. David Dalquist, the Bundt pan revolutionized midcentury baking.
Skulls are spinning. Haunted Skull cakelet pans, that is. It’s a rainy September morning, but inside the 250,000-square-foot Nordic Ware factory in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, there’s a hint of Halloween as hundreds of skeleton heads twirl through a mist of nonstick coating.
“We can’t keep them in stock,” says Jennifer Dalquist (M.B.A. ’09), sales and marketing executive vice president, of the year-round bestseller. Dressed in a pencil skirt and safety goggles, Dalquist navigates the factory floor with the confidence you’d expect from one who’s schooled none other than Martha Stewart on the bakeware company that her grandparents, Dotty and H. David Dalquist (B.S. ’42), founded in 1946, after Dave returned from World War II.
Nordic Ware began in the Dalquists’ basement, where the two made Scandinavian baking tools, including Krumkake and rosette irons. But it’s best known for the Bundt pan, which came on the scene in 1950, after members of the Hadassah Society (a volunteer organization for Jewish women) asked Dave if he could create a version of a kugelhopf mold—a round pan with a hollow tube in the middle that shoots heat, like a chimney, up into the baking cake. The old world cast iron versions were inconveniently heavy, especially when filled with batter.
Dalquist made the pan from cast aluminum, which is lighter and transmits heat more evenly than other materials. He also stylized the center tube so it was sleeker and more cone-shaped. No one seems to know for certain why he named his invention the Bundt pan, though the word appears to be a play on the German word bund, which means federation or association. Jennifer Dalquist says her grandfather added the “t” to make it trademarkable. But her father, H. David Dalquist III (B.M.E. ’72, B.S.B ‘73), who is the company’s current president and CEO, thinks his dad also wanted to distance the product from any unsavory associations Americans might have had at the time with Germans.
The Bundt pan was a reliable, if not overly profitable, item in the Nordic Ware inventory. Then, in 1966, the Tunnel of Fudge cake placed second in the Pillsbury Bake-Off. Created by Ella Helfrich of Houston, the chocolate nut cake with a gooey fudge center became a sensation, and sent the Nordic Ware factory into a round-the-clock manufacturing cycle; production eventually reached 30,000 pans per day. Today, Nordic Ware produces scores of Bundt styles, from a classic Bavarian mold to a pan shaped like a pirate ship to those skulls. Jennifer Dalquist says over 72 million have been sold to date.
Dave Dalquist died in 2005, and it’s clear from the way his son and granddaughter talk about him and Dotty—she’s 93 and stopped driving just a few months ago—that they care deeply about the Nordic Ware legacy. Dave and Dotty’s daughter, Corrine Dalquist Lynch (B.A. ’67, J.D. ‘70), serves on the company board and is general counsel; her son, Nicholas Lynch (B.M.E. ’11), works in the process engineering department. Sitting in his spacious office upstairs from the factory floor, David Dalquist says that he and his parents were driven by more than a desire to make a unique stamp on America’s baking habits: They wanted to create and keep jobs for Minnesotans.
“I didn’t get good training at the U in how to fire people,” cracks Dalquist. “It wasn’t in my DNA and it wasn’t in my father’s.” That commitment to local manufacturing has been tested many times, as various Nordic Ware competitors moved to offshore factories chasing cheap labor. To keep the St. Louis Park factory going, Nordic Ware couldn’t rely only on the success of a fluted pan. They needed to create new products.
When asked which invention he’s most proud of, David Dalquist points to a round tray that’s sitting on the bottom shelf of his office credenza. The idea for it came in the late ‘70s, when he and his in-laws were spending a weekend at their cabin. Microwave ovens were all the rage, but Dalquist’s father-in-law complained that they were a pain to use, given that you had to heat the food for a few minutes, stop, rotate the food, and so on. What would happen, they wondered, if you created a turntable that did the work for you?
Dalquist, with his degree in engineering, was intrigued enough to ask Nordic Ware’s engineers to find a solution. The team’s eureka moment came when they discovered it was possible to use metal in a microwave as long as it was shielded by another material, in this case plastic. Voila, a rotating food turntable, called the Micro-Go-Round, was born. “No single item did more to build the business at a critical time,” says Dalquist. “It kept us on the radar screen with our customers.”
Today, the company is known for its innovative microwave products; the Spatter Cover (the name says it all) is a best-seller. “If we were going to keep the plant and company in this country,” says Dalquist, “we realized we had to create new ideas, new products, and new concepts.”