Ben Neumann is a unique combination of professional baker and professional mixed martial artist (MMA). As his website intro declares, "put the two together and you have possibly the most intimidating moniker in the fight game: 'Ben The Baker Neumann.'" Not.
The White Bear baker is kidding, of course. He enters the MMA fight cage wearing his baker's hat and carrying a rolling pin. "Other guys call themselves the 'Axe Murderer' or something crazy. I'm the baker; not intimidating at all," Neumann joked. Not that names matter. The unintimidating baker is among Minnesota's top 10 MMA fighters.
When he's not fighting, Neumann, 33, is doing two things: teaching martial arts at Warrior's Cove in Little Canada and baking pies out of his garage-turned-commercial-bakery.
Pie is his specialty. "It's hard to find a good pie the way my grandma used to make when I was growing up. I finally took matters into my own hands and began baking about a decade ago," Neumann said.
He has little appetite for store pies, criticizing the shortening-laden, mechanically pressed crusts. After years of tweaking, Neumann feels he has perfected his crust, made with 100% butter and always baked in a heavy glass pie plate.
It was during a deployment to Iraq as a National Guard soldier that Neumann started reading books about baking and watching the reality show Cake Wars. The idea of becoming a baker intrigued him. He makes the occasional wedding cake for friends but prefers pies, regular size or mini.
Neumann enjoys both part-time jobs about the same — teaching martial arts and baking. "I have a passion for both, so it's hard to say which one I love more. It's an odd mix of interests, I know."
His wife Hannah is supportive of his late nights in the bakery. It does mean their cars are parked outside since the pie enterprise took over their garage. The couple moved to the Otter Lake Road house about five years ago. They planted 30 fruit trees and raspberries in the backyard with plans to someday use the fruit for pie filling.
Thanksgiving and Christmas are busy seasons for the pie guy. Orders are taken online with designated pickup times, as stated at www.benthebaker.com. Most of the pies are sold frozen to be baked at home. Some pies and cheesecakes just require thawing.
There aren't many secrets to his recipes other than quality ingredients. Neumann grinds all the spices fresh before adding and uses unsalted butter.
There will be a few pies for sale at the bakery, 4522 Otter Lake Road, that are not preordered but it's better to reserve online. There's also a special; buy one, get a second for $10 off. Look for the yard sign.
The mile-high apple pie, baked with 3 pounds of granny smith apples, is one of his best sellers. It's not his grandma's recipe though. Neumann found his own “to share the joy of homemade pie the same way my grandma shared that joy with me."