Saturday, September 14, 2002

Toast to bakeries


Small shops are biggest on tradition

map
        Grote Bakery's sudden demise this week ended a 50-year Cincinnati tradition. It also got me thinking about what I've learned from my weekly bakery tour.

        Every Saturday morning, bright and early, I seek out a neighborhood bakery in a different locale.

        Manned with maps of the Tristate and a nose for doughnuts, I drive until I come upon a cluster of small shops and aromas that smell just-baked.

        These tours offer an opportunity to sample the flavors of a neighborhood as well as a bakery's wares.

        Although Grote's six locations are off my tour schedule, other bakeries, much smaller and family-owned, still exist.

        Those bake shops' existence serves as a reminder: Too often we weep over what we have lost while forgetting to smile about what we still have.

Bakery treats

        You can still take a number and get in line at the North College Hill Bake Shop, marvel at the art deco architecture and drool over three styles of cinnamon breakfast cake.

        The Wyoming Pastry Shop still welcomes pastry-fueled gabfests at a corner table. Hot topics: World peace and why college kids never call home.

        Customers will still exchange greetings, discuss church festivals and yak about their families with the clerks at Price Hill's St. Lawrence Bakery.

        After chitchatting, they'll happily leave with baked goods made by the owners, brothers Bill and Paul Hartmann, and Paul's son, Nick.

        Friday morning, at 1:30 a.m., they labored over an ancient, wooden work table.

        The air was oven-warmed, rich with the combined sweet scents of butter, sugar, flour and eggs.

        The three Hartmanns weren't rubbing their hands with glee over Grote's passing.

        They wouldn't. “Nobody wants a bakery to close,” Bill said.

        They couldn't. Their hands were full.

        Bill sprinkled baking powder into a tub of batter. A wedding cake was on his to-do list. So were stacks of hand-cut doughnuts in need of glazing. He'd get to them before leaving at 7 a.m.

        Nick handled two of St. Lawrence's specialties. German-style breakfast cheesecakes were placed on trays. Fluffy hand-shaped hamburger buns were boxed and bagged.

        Paul filled cream doughnuts by hand. Two cranks on a handle and whoosh! cream shot through a tube and into the suddenly bulked up doughnut.

Nice work

        The Hartmanns smiled as they went about a business that has been in their family for four generations and 101 years.

        They enjoy making things from scratch.

        Bill explained why: “It's in our blood.”

        Like their grandfather, Conrad Hartmann, and their dad, Bill Sr., the brothers can see an oven filled with loaves of bread or decorate a cake and know they are looking at something they created.

        They love their work. And it shows. In their baked goods. Through the generations of customers coming to their shop.

        “As my dad likes to say,” Bill noted: “If you put happiness and love into your product, people can tell it.”

        So, yes, Grote Bakery is gone. But others carry on.

        Grote's passing was sad for the bakery's namesake family, employees and loyal customers.

        A tradition has ended. So, pay it a proper tribute.

        Visit a bakery. Make it a small, family-run operation with strong ties to its neighborhood.

        Thank the folks behind the counter for being there.

        Be sure to buy something. Maybe a tender, glazed doughnut, buttery Danish, jelly roll or sticky bun.

        Raise it to your lips and take a bite. Toast the end of one tradition by beginning another.

        Call Cliff Radel at 768-8379; or e-mail cradel@enquirer.com.

       

       



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