JULIE BERTRAND/Independent reporter
Last weekend’s Stettler Trade Show has once again demonstrated how vivid a business environment this town can offer.
While the trade show is an annual event, the business culture in town owes a lot to long lasting operations that have helped Stettler establish a reputation as a business hub and become an attraction for many smaller communities in the area.
One of the oldest of those business operations is Bloke’s Bakery on 50 Avenue.
At night, while most Stettler residents sleep, Rodney and Debbie Hasenfratz can be found working in their bakery, producing deliciously fresh bread, doughnuts, cakes and pastries.
They’ve owned Bloke’s Bakery since 1995, when they decided to leave their jobs of 20 years at Calgary Co-op to operate a standalone bakery.
“Towards the end of us working at Calgary Co-op, they started moving toward frozen stuff instead of baking from scratch. We didn’t like that,” explained Debbie Hasenfratz.
“My mom and dad live here in Stettler and they told us that the previous owners were considering selling so we came up and said that’s what we want to do.”
The art of baking
The Hasenfratzes follow one rule: everything has to be made from scratch. Their loyal customers benefit directly from the couple’s passion for baking. Often, by 4 p.m., all the pastries and cakes are gone.
Debbie Hasenfratz believes the doughnuts are so popular because they are freshly baked on a daily basis.
The other big sellers are the pastries with cream.
“Our cream is pretty famous. We get people from the cities saying that it’s the best,” said Hasenfratz.
“People going through town will call ahead to reserve a dozen of our cream johns to bring back to Calgary.”
Even local restaurants prefer to order bread from the bakery instead of making it themselves. The bakery also supplies to many stores in Alix, Donalda and Byemoor. “
“We used to supply the IGA until they moved and got their own bakery section. There aren’t many standalone bakeries anymore anywhere really,” said Hasenfratz.
The couple also makes special items for each holiday, like fruitcakes for Christmas and hot cross buns for Easter.
Mostly, they go with what there is a demand for.
“I was really specially trained in a lot of different German cakes and stuff, like your Grand Marnier cakes,” said Hasenfratz.
“I started to do them here when we first moved here but people didn’t want that. They loved it and they would taste it, but they wouldn’t buy it.”
There are two things you won’t find in the bakery: cupcakes and fondant. The couple refuses to give into those two crazes.
“Cupcakes can be really expensive. Shops in Calgary and Edmonton charge more than $3 per cupcake, which is ridiculous,” said Hasenfratz.
As for fondant, Hasenfratz can’t stand the taste of it and would rather make illustrations on the cakes with icing. When she watches the cake shows on TLC, Hasenfratz shakes her head at the waste of food going on.
Working at night
The bakery employs two full-time people and a part-time employee, as well as the Hasenfratzes.
“Now, we have our son helping. He’s in high school and he’s been working two hours every night giving his father a hand, which is fantastic,” said Hasenfratz.
Rodney Hasenfratz has a tough work schedule.
“My husband comes in at 5:30 p.m. and he doesn’t get home until 4:30 a.m. That’s why we’re closed on Sundays and Mondays,” said Hasenfratz.
“We got to have a break, especially when you work nights, because it’s really hard on your body.”
Last year was the first time the couple decided to close down the bakery for two weeks in the summer.
“We’re such a skeleton staff. It’s just my husband baking alone and then I come in at 1 in the morning to help him,” said Hasenfratz.
The couple would like to have a better schedule, one that would have them not work at nights, but it’s almost impossible, since the bakery opens at 5 a.m. Tuesday to Friday and at 6 a.m. on Saturday.
“People like to come in and get their stuff before they go to work. Lots of people come in at 7 a.m.,” said Hasenfratz.
One thing is sure: the couple couldn’t hope for a better customer base.
“Stettler has been fantastic to us. We can’t complain at all.”
The Hasenfratzes even have to turn orders down sometimes because the demand for their baked goods is so high.
“A couple of weeks ago, there were so many events on Friday that we couldn’t make more stuff. We had so many doughnuts on order that we had to cut some orders off,” said Hasenfratz.
“You need a lot of space and time to make doughnuts. It’s a three or four hour process.”
Debbie encourages people to put their orders a long time in advance.
“It’s first come, first serve.”
Even after 35 years, the Hasenfratzes are still passionate about baking and they hope to continue operating their bakery for a long time.