West Bend, WI – Since reporting about Sweet Creations Village Bakery in Slinger closing its doors this May 2022, we’ve been fielding a lot of comments about other bakeries across Washington County that have created wonderful aromas of fresh baked breads, rolls, poppyseed horns, and elephant ears.
Rosemary Van Beek died at the age of 87 on November 20, 2007. Her obituary read she worked at JC Penny and Bauer’s Bakery.
“Bauer’s Bakery was located on the east side of Main Street,” said Eugene Wendelborn with the Washington County Historical Society. Today’s business map would place the bakery just to the south of B-Elegant Day Spa, in an alleyway on the north side of the Ziegler building.
“Years ago, the shop was George Kuehlthau’s mercantile store and then May 20, 1905 Bauer’s Bakery moved in.”
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The bakery was started by Henry and Christina Bauer. The family lived upstairs over the bakery and the Bauer’s hired nieces and nephews to help run the shop including Rosemary Van Beek and her brother Stephen Jansen. “That was back in the 1930’s and my sister was a clerk and I delivered baked goods to regional stores and washed dishes,” said the 80-year-old Jansen who was 12-years-old when he started.
“Everything was baked downstairs and had to be carried upstairs to the retail part,” said Jansen who also frosted cakes and donuts, cut loaves of bread before school and cleaned the sticky remnants baked to the edge of pecan roll pans. “One time I made a mistake; instead of drying the pans I put them in the oven and my aunt almost killed me because after so many years the pans seasoned like an old cast iron skillet and the hot oven, baked off that seasoning,” said Jansen.
The layout of the bakery included old fashioned glass display cases, a decorative tin ceiling and an area where ice cream was served. “At one time they had a soda fountain with wrought iron wire chairs,” said Jansen about the counter that was eventually eliminated for more glass cases.
Sales were rung up on an old fashioned cash register. Clerks sent pastries home in white, cardboard boxes and whole loaves of bread were wrapped in plain paper and tied with a string. “The rye breads, half ryes, round ryes, and hard rolls were all hearth baked in a wood oven,” said Jansen whose cousin Millard ‘Kelly’ Bauer stoked the fire in the hearth every morning. In later years the bakery invested in a coal stoker made by the Gehl Company.
Bauer’s Bakery was open every day except Sunday. “Friday night used to be shopping night in downtown West Bend,” said Jansen remembering how bakers would work from noon Friday straight through until noon Saturday. “Weekends were so busy four or five people would wait on customers and breads and poppy seed horns would just fly out the door.” Jansen said he would make 75 cents on Saturdays working from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m.
During Lent, Bauer’s Bakery did a lot of delivery work and during Christmas they made all sorts of holiday cookies and their specialty, cinnamon stars. “They were made primarily of egg whites and cinnamon, real crusty and shaped like a star,” said Jansen about the stars which were a little expensive because “eight to 10 dozen eggs had to be separated and eggs were dear at the time.”
German chocolate cake, dark rye bread, soft oatmeal cookies, and Jansen had a thing for chocolate eclairs. “It was kind of a specialty dough and they cut it in half and put the cream filling in the middle and the chocolate on top. Of all things I liked that the best.”
Half and half bread was also a specialty according to Barbara Zabors whose father and grandmother ran the bakery. “It was half rye and half wheat and on Fridays there was potato bread,” said Zabors remembering bread for 12 cents, crawlers and coffee cakes. “My dad made a cheese coffee cake in a kuchen pan. He used a farmer’s cheese and would put in pineapple or strawberries or other fruits and that was pretty popular.”
The bakery was also a hot spot for West Bend Company employees getting off the night shift. “They would come to the basement of the bakery, early in the morning and buy directly from the bakers,” said Zabors who talked about how busy her dad was during the war. “The women were working in the factories and they didn’t have time to do the baking so they would buy from the bakery.” Bauer’s also catered to little churches in Nabob, Nenno and St. Michaels helping roast chickens for their summer picnics and bazaars.
At harvest time during threshing the crews would go from farm to farm to work, and then they’d have to be fed. “The farm families were so busy cooking the main meal they didn’t have time to bake, nor did they have the oven space so they bought directly from the bakery,” she said.
Long time West Bender Ed German said when he was a boy the bakery was on his Milwaukee Sentinel paper route. “I’d drop a paper off and in the winter, they had a grate out on the sidewalk. Kelly Bauer would have the window open when he was baking and all the warm air and the smell of baking would come up and you’d stand there for five to 10 minutes warming up and inhaling all that extra aroma,” laughed German who continued his route smelling of golden airy loaves of bread and rolls. If he had a little money, German said he would treat himself. “They made these sweet rolls. They were six-inches long, side by side and you would buy them five to six at a time and they would be frosted,” said German drooling at the thought. “Bauer’s was one of the best bakeries in town.”
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Bauer’s wasn’t the only bakery in downtown West Bend, there was City Bakery or Kannenberg’s Bakery located up the block and across the street from near the corner of the old Landvatter TV, Gingerbread Junction and currently the future home of Dr. Larry Porter. South on Main Street there was Schelegel’s Bakery, the old Apple Barrel General Store. Bauer’s Bakery closed December 31, 1971.