New bakery owners want customers to feel spirit of Hazella

By Megan Stewart
For Lebanon Local

When customers swing open the front door at Hazella, the three family business operators want them to immediately feel cozy and at home – or better yet, hazella.
Hazella, one of Lebanon’s newest businesses, held a soft opening on May 22, in the midst of the coronavirus shutdown.
Located in the same building that housed the beloved Kris’ Kitchen, Hazella, a Scandinavian bakery, is owned by former culinary chef Michael Kerrigone, and operated with the assistance of wife and long-time baker Rebecca Kerrigone and Rebecca’s daughter Katherine Traeger, who has experience in marketing and design. They also get help from Katherine’s husband, Alex Traeger, who’s studying engineering at Oregon State University.
The name “Hazella” stems from the phonetic spelling of the Norwegian word “gezellig,” which does not have a direct translation in English.
“It’s this kind of sense of cozy, togetherness that you would have with your family and friends, usually over delicious treats,” said Katherine. Her sister-in-law, whose parents immigrated from Holland, introduced them to the word.
“When she and her family are together and having a cozy time, she’ll say, ‘Oh this is so hazella,’” said Katherine. “Or if they see like a fuzzy blanket or something, she’ll be like, ‘that’s so hazella.’ Kind of how we would say, ‘Oh, that’s so inviting, so cozy.’ That’s what we want people to say when they walk in here. We want them to be like, ‘Wow, we feel welcome, we feel comfortable, we feel cozy, like we’re with family.’”
To create that warm atmosphere, Michael, Rebecca, and Katherine strive to know their customers intimately.
“When ‘Joe’ walks in, we want to be like ‘Oh, Joe likes his coffee with cream, no sugar, he has five grandkids, a dog,’” said Katherine. “We want to know our customers, so that when we see them come in, we kind of have this relationship with them where they feel they’re known and welcome.”
Michael compared this vibe to the show ‘Cheers,’ which popularized the saying, “where everyone knows your name.” Both he and Rebecca “have a heart of service,” he said, to which Rebecca added, “and hospitality.” The couple seek to build those two values into the bakery’s foundation.
“Sitting at a table for us is such an important part of life,” said Rebecca. “Sitting around a table with family and friends and new acquaintances, whatever, just sharing a meal together and the depth that that brings to life, I think is something we [Michael and I] both talked about right off the bat. That was really important to us.”
But why Nordic baked goods?

KATHERINE TRAEGER takes pastries out of a display case.

“When we were talking about branding, kind of looking around, we wanted people to have a reason to come to us, instead of having the exact same thing that everybody else has,” Rebecca said. Swedish food also usually contains all-natural ingredients, and both Rebecca and Katherine need less sugar in their diet.
“We were like, ‘Why don’t we combine those two things and start using some of the Swedish recipes?” Rebecca said.
Additionally, all three are connected in some way to Nordic culture. Rebecca and Michael have Swedish grandmothers, and Katherine took art and piano lessons as a child from a Swedish woman named Lisa, who became the family’s “dear friend.”
When Rebecca and Katherine met Lisa, they lived in Christmas Valley, a tiny town in Central Oregon. Like many small towns, many families had resided in the area for generations. Lisa, “a big, tall Nordic woman,” who “was also kind of like a little fairy,” was unlike any other person Katherine had ever met.
A skilled artist and cook, Lisa painted every wall of her house with beautiful Scandinavian designs and shared delicious Swedish food with Rebecca and Katherine’s family, who Lisa and her husband invited over frequently.
“As a kid, I just thought she was so magical,” said Katherine.
When Lisa moved back to Sweden with her husband, due to homesickness and a desire to be closer to family, Rebecca and Katherine traveled to visit their friend. Through subsequent trips to Europe, they began to develop an even deeper appreciation for Scandinavian cultures.
Though Lisa has since died, she lives on in her recipes, some of which have found their place on Hazella’s menu.
With so much passionate and personal stakes invested in this business, some may wonder why Hazella is in Lebanon, rather than Portland, the cultural epicenter of Oregon.
According to Michael, Lebanon suits Hazella better. The city already supports

MICHAEL KERRIGONE holds scones about to go into the oven.

numerous “great” eateries and is currently working toward renovating old buildings, in turn preserving the city’s heritage and unique charm. In a way, Hazella feels like their “contribution to the city of Lebanon.”
“I’m more of a big city guy, but this, for me, reminds me of that small neighborhood place where your name is known,” said Michael.
But how exactly did they come to settle down in the building that once was Kris’s Kitchen?
Two years ago, Michael and Rebecca dreamed of opening a bed and breakfast similar in spirit to Hazella in Sacramento, Calif. They sold their home and quit their jobs, fully prepared to begin a new life in the state down under. During the transaction, someone hacked into their Realtor’s email account and stole all the money they had invested in their new business. At the same time, Katherine, who was attending fashion school in New York, suffered a traumatic brain injury.
“And all at once, we were just living in a basement apartment [in Portland], all three of us together, like ‘what’s going to happen to us?’” said Katherine. “And we had no idea.”
Eventually, when they got back on their feet, the three of them decided to join forces and chase a new passion: opening a bakery. They moved from Portland to Silverton, and at first considered setting up shop “somewhere around there.” However, upon consulting Kris and Leonard Krabil, whom they had just met, for expert advice on “what to look for, what things should cost,” Kris offered them her own bakery, which had been on the market for about two years.
In the beginning, the family didn’t take the offer seriously, but once they saw

Rebecca Kerrigone slices bread in the back of the former Kris’ Kitchen.

the place in person, they knew it was where they needed to start their business.
“It wasn’t cozy in here at all,” said Katherine, but “we all just could see exactly the same thing that this place could be. And Kris and Leonard were so supportive and so on board with us that we all were like, ‘yes, this is what we have to do.’”
Kris and Leonard remain their close friends and heavily involved with their business, teaching them how to navigate the peculiarities of each piece of machinery and how to maximize the space.
“I grew up in this business and I’ve seen every level of it,” said Michael, especially the “competitiveness” and “selfishness.”
“I have never experienced where there was actually a previous owner or someone that is actually walking with you through the process of a launch, and everything down to the facilities, to the conveyers, to more importantly the customers that we see every day in the streets here,” said Michael. “To have them with us, having coffee, walking outside, is something I’ve never experienced.”
When asked if Hazella can ever live up to Kris and Leonard’s legacy, Michael said, “No way.”
“It’s a different sort of extension of them, but we know they’ve done so well, and to do that [to live up to their legacy] would be impossible. But at least in some way we can sort of take the baton and carry it on a different way.”
Hazella now allows limited seating inside their shop, in accordance to social distancing requirements.
“I think [Hazella] it’s really about the culture,” said Michael. “I keep reinforcing that. Again, excellent product, the aesthetics are wonderful, we’re glad for that, but the culture has to be the highest” priority.
“And even if it’s just a few minutes to feel like they’re welcome and that they can just take that pause and savor, they can take that time out for a mini respite, that’s our culture. And we hope that will be the thing we’re most known for.”