“That Simple Slice of Happiness”

With Danish pastry, Peter Olesen ’09 helps customers endure the pandemic.

Peter Olesen

Oleson’s O&H bakery takes three days to handcraft a 36-layer kringle worthy of grandma’s holiday table. Paul L. Newby II

Peter Olesen ’09 is part of the fourth generation leading O&H Danish Bakery, beloved in Racine, Wisconsin, and beyond for its scratch-made kringle pastries. As vice president of strategic development, Olesen contributes his finance and real-estate background to the family business, where his parents worked alongside two brothers and aunts and uncles.

To Olesen, family also means fellow Badgers. His brother-in-law, Matt Horton ’05, is O&H’s vice president of marketing. Olesen’s wife, Kimberly Olesen ’08, MS’10, is a dentist: “We have this perfect synergy — I encourage sweets, and she takes care of them,” he says.

Olesen recalls that a course he took through the Wisconsin Family Business Center helped prepare him for working with family members day in and day out.

“The focus was helping companies get through these relationship issues that inevitably pop up,” he says. “I lived it growing up. The dinner-table talk is the bakery talk. You have to then also be able to turn it off and just be family.”

No wonder he’s delightfully practiced at explaining the art of kringle. It takes three days to handcraft a 36-layer, flaky pastry worthy of grandma’s holiday table. When it comes to fillings, Olesen is a traditionalist (please pass the almond kringle his way), but he’s also fond of Wisconsin Kringle, a cherry, cranberry, and cream-cheese flavor created in 2013 when kringle was named Wisconsin’s official state pastry. A brandy old-fashioned kringle was a hot seller, he says, and a collaboration with Highland Park Whiskey is launching this summer.

Each day, O&H bakes upward of 6,000 kringles, which are often purchased for gifts or special-occasion treats. But Olesen says that in 2020, when the pandemic led to canceled holiday gatherings and forced isolation for so many households, kringle took on new meaning.

“It became that simple slice of happiness in an otherwise crazy, scary, we-don’t-know-what’s-going-on world,” he says.

In September, O&H was honored with a Wisconsin 2020 Family-Owned Business of the Year Award. And Olesen rang in the New Year as president of a new family business, a shipping and fulfillment center that’s set to grow O&H’s biggest demand: kringle by mail.

The center will keep O&H kringles and cakes shipping on time, especially during peak holiday seasons, he says. The operation will also expand into fulfillment for other local and regional e-commerce companies.

“I get very excited making investments in the business when you know that your goal is really long-term success,” Olesen says. “We’re 72 years into the O&H business. I’d like to think there’s easily another 72 years ahead of us.”

Published in the Summer 2021 issue

Tags: Alumni, Business, Food

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