Waller completes a successful year at Altona Square

Photo by Robert Williams
Chef Madison Waller completed her first year in business at MW Pastry and made a complete 180-degree change in her initial business plan after receiving overwhelming support from the local community that allowed her to create three part-time employment opportunities in Vergas while her top quality products are finding multiple growing markets throughout the region.

By Robert Williams


year ago, the downtown business landscape in Vergas began to change with the completion of Altona Square and Chef Madison Waller was one of the first to open her doors of MW Pastry. 

A year later, Waller has completely changed her business model and found success that can be directly tied to local support.

“I thought I had a pretty good idea,” she said. “It was probably a 180—everything kind of flipped on what I thought it was going to be like, but it was for the better.”

Waller did not expect the numbers of customers that would be coming through her door and had planned for more of a custom order-based operation.

“It was kind of crazy, very surprising,” said Waller. “It was different from what I was expecting. I was thinking custom orders would be most popular and retail would be a little bit, but my retail has gone crazy. So, that jumped to my main focus. We were not expecting that.”

That welcome surprise came from the support Waller received locally from Vergas residents and as time passed, customers from outside the village and even out of state.

“They definitely supported me during the winter, which was really good and this is my first full summer open, so that has been crazy,” she said. “Summer is five times the amount of people coming through the door every day—a lot of foot traffic.”

While Waller’s initial plans to focus on custom orders with other businesses took a back burner to her shop, that custom portion of her business has grown in the private sector.

“Custom orders are getting busier,” she said. “I booked out 15 weddings this year.”

  With the uptick in business, Waller was able to open up three part-time employment opportunities in Vergas, along with getting support from her mom and sister.

“I had to hire some people because I knew I wouldn’t survive summer if it was just me,” Waller said. 

Her employees Abby Stoa, Avery Shannon and Sylvia Pesch have been a big help wrapping up the first year of business.

“They’ve been a huge help,” said Waller.

Next summer, Waller is hoping to add a full, year-round employee.

Waller keeps a fresh pastry maker’s schedule, sometimes surprising overnight travelers who pass through town by having her store lights on and working on the morning pastries when she begins her shift at 2 a.m., in what often turns out to be a 12-hour day.

The early shift is to prepare her regular day-fresh breakfast items, including her top-selling cream cheese danishes, croissants, cinnamon and caramel rolls and a variety of scones. 

“That’s an everyday thing and the rest is what I decide to make that day,” Waller said.

That work ethic and preparing everything from scratch daily is what has attracted so many repeat customers.

“I’ve gotten a lot of people; even people from Fargo have driven through rainstorms just to come to my shop,” she said.

Many of the first-timers are in for a surprise or two. Some customers have asked where Waller buys her doughs, only to hear Madison’s response of, “I make them.”

Madison’s mother Paula has seen the effect her daughter’s pastries have had on customers directly from spending time in the shop.

“People are really starting to know that she is the real deal, where she does hand-make everything fresh,” Paula said. “People will come in and buy a couple things the first time and literally take the effort to come back and say that was the best I ever had.”

Paula occasionally has to deflect customers to Madison, as some think Paula is the owner. According to both women, some customers are quite surprised when they find out it is Madison’s shop.

Waller opened MW Pastry at the young age of 22, but she brought with her the expertise of being professionally trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley, California—one of the top pastry schools in the world, along with head pastry positions in Denver and at Big Sky Resort.

“I’ve had people say, ‘I haven’t had a croissant like this since I was in Europe’ and that’s because I was taught by a French Chef and do it the classic way and more and more people are realizing this stuff is better when it’s homemade and it helps me feel good about my day and it’s worth getting up that early,” Madison said.

Work times fluctuated over the first 12 months of the shop, but have now steadied after working through the full calendar.

“We didn’t really know when it would be busy or not; I changed my hours a couple times, but I think what we have now is pretty good,” she said.

The shop does operate seasonally, with winter hours returning after Labor Day.

New plans for the coming year are cake and cookie decorating classes for kids and adults.

“I want to do that in the slower months, just to have some fun,” Waller said.

The off months will also allow Waller to continue to add to her delivery service to area businesses to get her products in front of more people in the surrounding towns. 

More information on the shop can be found at www.mwpastrymn.com.