BIRNAMWOOD — About the time most people are getting ready for bed, Linda Meade’s day is just beginning.
Meade arrives each workday at 9 p.m. and typically doesn’t leave until 10 a.m. the next day — sometimes staying even later on Saturdays.
That’s life as a bakery owner.
Meade bought a bakery 30 years ago in this Shawano County village and renamed it Linda’s Town & Country Bakery. Ever since, she has provided the village’s nearly 800 residents, as well as nearby rural communities, with a mouthwatering menu of sweet treats, breads, buns and more.
“I’ve been here a long time now and it’s been fun,” Meade said. “I’ve done a baby cake for someone who was just born, then their First Communion cake, then their graduation cake, then their wedding cake and now a cake again for the first baby they’re having. I’ve done the whole series of their life in cakes for some people here in town.”
Meade enjoys owning a bakery in small-town Wisconsin, saying she’s familiar with many of her repeat customers even if she doesn’t know them all by name.
“You know them by face based on what they like,” she said. “Someone comes in and, yeah, that’s the jelly doughnut guy. Or, hey, there’s the apple fritter girl. That’s how you recognize people.”
The bakery, at 404 Main St., is open from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, and from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. In order to satisfy customers with made-from-scratch bakery items — “so it’s all good and fresh,” she said — Meade spends late evening and wee hours of the morning creating an array of doughnuts, cookies, muffins, cakes, bars, breads and buns.
And don’t forget about doughnut holes.
“I think the town would have a riot if I didn’t keep making doughnut holes,” Meade said. “They’re a hot item here.”
The same could be said for Meade’s signature item, apple fritter bread.
“Oh, it’s real popular,” she said. “We tried it a while ago and it just took off. I had somebody from Milwaukee order 25 loaves one time, which is unheard of.
“And regular apple fritter is one of those things it seems like everybody likes. I used to eat one apple fritter each day, but I stopped that and went to croissants. You have to change it up once in a while.”
Meade began baking as a youngster. As one of nine children growing up on her family’s 40-cow dairy farm “we made do with what we had,” she said. “With nine kids you can’t go out buying food all the time, you have to bake it yourself. So we did, and I took a liking to that. We did a lot of cakes and brownies. My mom made the bread.”
As a primarily self-taught baker, Meade continued baking after graduating from Antigo High School, not long thereafter working for several years at a now-closed bakery in nearby Wittenberg.
When she heard a bakery in downtown Birnamwood was for sale she jumped at the opportunity to run her own business. Meade has two full-time and two part-time employees, and she said her husband, John, an auto mechanic, has been instrumental in supporting the bakery as well.
“What I’ve always liked about baking is you start out with sugar, flour, yeast, salt and shortening. And the next thing you know, you have a loaf of bread or doughnuts or buns,” she said. “Whoever thought of putting those ingredients together and making something so delicious and good … they were a genius.”
The basic ingredients have remained the same over the years, but customers’ tastes have changed.
“What people eat now is different than when I started,” Meade said. “People now are more into finger foods they can eat faster. Back when I started, a lot of the older people liked coffee cakes, which isn’t something you eat really quick. Now it’s more younger people who come in and there’s more doughnuts and cookies, the smaller items that go faster.”
Cakes remain popular, too, especially for special occasions like birthdays, graduations and weddings. Meade taught herself to decorate cakes, and she produces about 10 to 15 each week. They often get picked up on Saturdays, meaning she may put in a 15-hour shift to get everything finished on time.
Meade also makes seasonal foods, like hot cross buns as Easter approaches and sauerkraut rye bread in the fall.
“People love that sauerkraut rye bread,” she said.