Papa Haydn - Sculpting the Dessert Industry

Evelyn Franz, once an aspiring sculptor, is now quite the opposite of a “starving artist.” Thirty five years ago, Franz took a break from her art career for a year to help out at her sister’s small new café.  In her supposedly short stint, she discovered chocolate is just as malleable, challenging and beautiful as clay. It became her new medium.

“I joined the business in 1980 'just for a year',” Franz said behind a glass case filled with cakes and delicately crafted pastries. “I was an artist in residence at Lincoln High School [at the time].” 

Photo by contributor Color Lee

Photo by contributor Color Lee

Franz was more than happy to help her sister, Heidi, and brother-in-law, Jeff, with their new endeavor. The two Franz sisters have always been close and became even closer when they moved across the world to Portland, Oregon, from Germany in 1965 with their parents Bernhard and Hildegard Franz. A move that crushed the fragile lives of the two teenage girls, but was the only safe option as the shadow of Communism crept across East Germany.

“To be honest, Heidi and I were not exactly jubilant when we found ourselves transported [to Portland] in our teens,” Franz recalls. “Coming from Berlin, one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities, to Portland, which at the time was a small, quiet town located between two rivers was a bit of a buzz kill for two teenage girls.” 

Photo by contributor Color Lee

Photo by contributor Color Lee

Over the next forty years, the two sisters would not only witness Portland change from a sleepy city into a vibrant food and hipster capital, but would actually be part of the catalyst setting forward off the beginning of change. The first Papa Haydn opened in 1978 on SE Milwaukie Ave. It was the first restaurant in town to have an espresso machine. More importantly, were the delicious handmade cakes offered to go with each cup of coffee or compliment the meal.

“Our parents always baked. Having coffee and a slice of dessert in the afternoon [or] always finishing a meal with a slice of something sweet…it’s the tradition that truly inspired Papa Haydn,” says Franz.

Although baking and chocolate had always been a part of her life and memories, the tipping point in her love for it began when she joined the Papa Haydn team. 

“I realized that chocolate, sugar and the enormous abundance of fresh Pacific Northwest fruits were just three more mediums with which I could sculpt."

As the business grew and prospered, Franz's supposed one year job with her sister turned into over 35 years of working together to grow Papa Haydn. What once was a small cafe has morphed into two restaurants with the finest food and desserts in Portland, a bustling cafe and a wedding or custom cake service!  

Photo by contributor Color Lee

Photo by contributor Color Lee

“I began to see the bakery as my studio. It was this ‘eureka’ moment that really grabbed me and still inspires our bakery today," Franz says, as the sun glints off the many shapes and sizes of chocolate layered carefully on the shelves below her. The dessert case is the first thing a person sees when they walk into the restaurant. It’s a museum of sweets.

Franz and the rest of the team at Papa Haydn are known for filling the dessert display case with irresistible treats such as the Café au Chocolat: a cappuccino brownie with milk chocolate espresso mousse, crunchy croquant and dark chocolate espresso ganache. 

“We seek to feed, serve and nourish our guests in such a manner that we become a treasured part of their lives," she says, looking at the couple who just sat down. “[It’s] the most rewarding and challenging part of our business.”

When the Second Papa Haydn location opened on NW 23rd Avenue in 1983, Franz remembers a couple who used to bring their 13-year-old daughter into the restaurant after her gymnastics class. The little girl would do her homework while the family shared dinner and dessert. 

“Today, the daughter comes in with her family and her children to share a meal together. Seeing multiple generations of a family create traditions with us is a privilege.”

Franz offers to bring out another dessert to test. We’ve already had five. Her unexpected passion for chocolate and her secret past as an artist have found unity in creating beautiful looking and tasting desserts. 

While over the years many things have changed, one factor of Papa Haydn stays constant: the glass case filled with chocolate masterpieces. It remains the focal point of Papa Haydn. It draws people in and their faces glow with happiness, choosing what treat to indulge in as the secret sculptor watches her work be seen and enjoyed.