In Search Of...Consumers Bakery
Longtime Owners Ready for New Chapter
LA CROSSE, Wis. -- Consumers Bakery in downtown La Crosse is one of those businesses that is just a part of this communities history. And if you wander in on any given morning you will most likely find Bob Riel - or 'Baker Bob' as he's better known, whipping up one of his many creations. "We do a lot of these fried pies. Pastries. And a lot of fancy stuff too."
It's a pretty impressive talent for a guy who sort of stumbled into the baking business. "My dad bought the store and my brother worked in the meat market and I came back here and worked. And it was good. I didn't know nothing! But I learned."
In 1976, Bob became the sole owner of the bakery. "We've tried a lot of things. The catering is really good for us. We do a lot of wedding cakes and other cakes and that I really like. And I've got a good helper over there."
His 'helper' is his wife Kay who is here day in and day out right by Bob's side. But 30 years ago - she never thought she be such an important part Consumers success. "I came in to visit one day and pretty soon I was answering the phone and the 'oh honey, could you help me with this? Are you coming back again tomorrow?!"
Together, they have grown this business into a household name. They make hundreds and hundreds of wedding cakes each year. "One Saturday we did 13. Oh man that was nuts! I said 'Kay, we ain't doing that anymore!"
They single handedly serve up the food for La Crosse's Thanksgiving community dinner and have made their holiday gingerbread house classes a yearly tradition for so many families. And then there's the long list of catering jobs they've had throughout the years! "There's one customer we've been catering for 35 years! That's gotta tell you something."
They have books and books full of thank you notes. They have pictures of every wedding cake they've made throughout the years. "I had a mother and daughter walk in one time and the mother says 'you did my cake years ago.' I said wait - and I'll pick it out. And I said 'here's your cake! She couldn't believe it."
So many great memories. But last year, Bob and Kay decided it's about time to hang up their aprons. "Is it hard to think about walking away, Bob? Well, yeah. But it's time to do something else. Have some fun. I'm 69! We have a lot of good customers and they're just the best customers. They don't want me to quit."
But quitting is not what they have in mind. Bob and Kay have made it their mission to find just the right person to sell the bakery to and they've set the bar for a replacement pretty high. "Do the same thing I'm doing.
It's been a good ride and a great partnership. "You've had a good partner along the way? The best. Anyone you ask - they know Baker Bob. And they love him. They love his buns!"
As they near the end of this more than 35 year run, they both look back and hope people remember them for one thing. "That we did a good job. That's important to me. And I think we did."
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