Pine River Bakery celebrates 5 years, continuing 92 years of tradition.
The Pine River Bakery celebrated five years of business under the current owners, but those five years are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to baked goods in Pine River.
Pine River has actually had a retail bakery since 1921, when the history book “Logsleds to Snowmobiles” says George (Dud) and Earnest (Prong) Robideau built the original Pine River Bakery. The bakery was in a different location at the time. It was moved in 1926 and again in 1957.
Between 1921 and 1968 the business was not only relocated, but sold four times. It has, however, been in its current location since 1957, where it was moved by Mr. and Mrs. Frank Knutson and subsequently sold to Mr. and Mrs. Mike Mead in 1968.
If you count all of the bakery’s former locations, this tradition spans 92 years. Current owners Bob and Emily Fulton only count the 55 years the business has been in its current location and the five they have owned it.
Almost as impressive as the bakery’s 92 years of history is the 70-plus years of combined experience the Fultons called on to operate it after buying it in January 2008 from Al and Barb Klocke.
The Fultons had very different backgrounds in baking. Bob started as a baker on a Navy ship during Vietnam starting in 1965; Emily taught home economics at a middle school in Iowa in 1977. They both moved on to bake with Hy-Vee foods and found one another in January 1982. They married that fall and began baking together.
The couple went on to own and operate three businesses before coming to Pine River: Lake Country Bakery in Detroit Lakes, Gaylord Bakery in Gaylord, Minn., and B.E.’s ice cream shop in Hackensack.
Today, the Fultons’ bakery still benefits from loyal customers from their time in Hackensack.
Shortly after the Fultons purchased the Pine River Bakery, the city of Pine River began to fall on hard times. Emily recalls seeing one grocery store, two restaurants, a drugstore, a department store and a car dealership all close their doors. In spite of some initial worry, they survived and discovered one important lesson.
“If you want to work in a bakery you can buy a bakery anyplace and it will make it go so long as you have a good product,” Bob said. “You can actually live anyplace in this country and have a little retail bakery.”
A number of factors helped to guarantee the future of the Pine River Bakery. According to Emily, Pine River is now the only city with a full-line retail bakery between Little Falls and Bemidji.
“I tell people retail bakeries are a dying breed,” Bob said.
Perhaps an even more important factor is location, location, location. The Pine River Bakery is on a street that is frequented by people buying parts from Gardiner’s Hardware store, renewing tabs at Griep’s Jewelry Store, sipping specialty coffee from Dark Cravings, waiting on a car at Master Autocare, or just frequenting one of the other businesses along Barclay Avenue. There is a lot of potential for customers, even during financial hardships.
“This is a fabulous block between the hardware store and Griep’s and the coffee shop,” Emily said.
When businesses throughout Pine River were facing economic hardships and sometimes closing, the Pine River Bakery persisted, and today the Fultons maintain a healthy customer base just below 100 people a day during the winter, and sometimes over 200 people daily in the summer. Bob goes through more than 500 pounds of flour per week, a number that could grow with the economy.
“Cass County has slowly recovered from the recession. People are getting happier, and when they’re happy they buy sweets,” Bob said.
When Bob and Emily approached their fifth anniversary, they decided to thank those happy customers by offering a special open house to celebrate their five years of business. Bob gave interested customers a detailed tour of the facility, while Emily treated visitors to free doughnuts, hot from the fryer.
Marvin and Eloise Ryan were among those visiting the bakery Saturday, Jan. 19. The Ryans are residents of Pine River, but they knew Bob and Emily from their ice cream shop in Hackensack. This open house offered them the chance to see the store’s inner workings for the first time.
“We learned a great deal in the tour,” Marvin said. “The enthusiasm for what they do is obvious.”
The Pine River Bakery also offers wholesale products to various businesses in the area. The bakery sells products to Lakes Latte in Pequot Lakes as well as nursing homes, convenience stores and even Mann Lake Bee Company in Hackensack. The Fultons won’t turn away a customer if they can help it. That’s likely another reason the Fultons are still around.
“We take care of everybody, big or small,” Bob said.