Thursday, March 19, 2009

Harold Reit's Doughnuts

In the early 80’s, I lived in a small city of 6000 in northern Iowa. It was a nice town, a regional trade center with a downtown, small mall, public and Catholic High School, hospital, etc.

We had a small “mom and pop” bakery called Reit’s Bakeshop. It was owned by a man in his early 70’s named Harold Reit. Harold had been lured out of retirement from having owned a bakery for years and years in a neighboring town when local community and business leaders convinced him that our little city could benefit from a bakery of its own. Harold agreed to come out of retirement for a while to start the bakery and then to try to sell it to a younger person who could keep it going and make a living from the bakery.

Reit’s Bakery made the most wonderful baked goods. It was the best place to go in town for donuts or cinnamon rolls or bear claws or cakes or pies. His prices were incredibly reasonable, about $2 a dozen for donuts and never more than $.75 for his best and biggest cinnamon roll, dripping with butter and icing. Reit’s was the best place in town to go in the morning for “kaffeeklatching” with business people and other movers and shakers in the town. Plus, Harold always had a few minutes to stop by and chat, putting his 2 cents worth in and refilling our cups as we shook dice to see who would pay for the morning’s coffee at a quarter a cup.

After about 4 years, Harold found a young couple to buy the bakery from him. He even helped them finance the bakery using a combination of SBA guaranteed financing and a 2nd mortgage that he carried. He also provided the couple with all his recipes and trained them in the art of baking continuing to work alongside them for about 6 months.

After that 6 month break-in period, the new owners were on their own. Harold and his bride of more than 50 years took off for points south for the winter. The quality stayed pretty good for a while under the new owners. They would even chat at bit. After a while though, the chatting would often turn to pessimism over the business climate or mild complaining over having to get up to start baking at 3:30 a.m. We noticed that the baked goods didn’t seem to taste as good anymore and we would discuss it occasionally at our afternoon “kaffeeklatch” at the “BackDoor Café”.

There was only one conclusion and, Irv Wiltgen, the local Jeweler; Phil Diamond, who owned a men’s clothing store and I (who ran the local Chamber of Commerce) came up with it one day. Harold had provided the new owners with all his recipes which they were following perfectly. He taught them how to bake. But there was one ingredient missing—an ingredient that he couldn’t provide. The missing ingredient was simple. Every donut, cinnamon roll, cake or pie that Harold made had just a little bit of love in it.

You could tell by how he smiled at a youngster, nose pressed to the glass of his display case. You could tell how he volunteered each year to play Santa Claus the day after Thanksgiving, arriving on a fire engine and handing out treats. You could tell by how he was always positive about the future of the town. You could tell from his lusty laugh when dealing with the ladies who would come in to buy cakes. All of which was missing in his successors.

I moved on a couple of years later to another community. But, the last time I was back, I noticed that the bakery was no more. A close friend told me that Harold had eventually taken back the bakery and ultimately closed it when he could no longer work. The bakery closed for good when Harold passed away. But, the same friend told me that which we both knew. “You know,” he said wistfully, almost as though he could taste those rolls, “Harold always put just a little pinch of love in everything he baked.”

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