CHETEK — Running a bakery is a lot like farming, according to Lynn Marty, owner of the Chetek Bakery.
“You have to be committed to it, and it’s a lot of hours,” she said.
Since buying the Barron County establishment in 2000, Marty and her husband, Randy, have proven they’re up to the task, filling the cases and shelves daily with a wide assortment of homemade, fresh-baked cookies, cakes, doughnuts, breads and more.
The Martys are only the third owners of the bakery, which opened its doors in 1937 and is perched on a street corner next to an antique shop. Before entering the baking business, Lynn, originally from Boyd, decorated cakes out of the couple’s home and Randy, a Madison native, had a route selling meat and seafood out of his truck.
When the bakery went up for sale, they took a leap of faith.
“Randy said, ‘It doesn’t look much different than cutting meat; I can do that,’” she said, adding that he has since learned quite the contrary.
Growing demand for their goods warranted a small expansion about three years ago in which they added tables and seating for customers and expanded the display area.
“Chetek is a tourist community, with resorts and campgrounds bringing more people to town in the summer,” Marty said. “In the summer, it gets really crowded.”
In fact, before the expansion, the lines of customers stretched out the door and around the corner just before major holidays, she said. Now, there’s room for everyone to wait inside.
While many small-town bakeries have folded through the years, Marty said the Chetek Bakery remains popular because of the quality and affordability of its products. Many out-of-towners rave about their low prices — 80 to 90 cents for a doughnut instead of $2 to $3 in pricier locales. The Martys work to keep prices affordable for their year-round local clientele.
“Where a lot of (tourists) come from, there isn’t a hometown bakery anymore,” she said. “They’re becoming a rare breed.”
Days are long for the Martys: Lynn often can be found in the bakery by 6 a.m. and stays until 6 p.m. — even later in the summer.
Randy comes in about 7 p.m. to begin the overnight baking. By 5:30 a.m., he’s on the road for deliveries, which include stops at Jennie-O Turkey Store in Barron, Brion’s Smokehouse Deli in Cameron and the Bridge Stop in Chetek.
They deliver doughnuts for the Jennie-O Turkey Store cafeteria, as well as cakes for employee anniversary parties and buns — more than 100 dozen at a time — for holiday parties. The Barron company also buys cookies to donate locally.
The Chetek Bakery also takes regular custom orders from individuals; they’re gearing up for Easter dinners, graduation parties and weddings. Most orders come through word of mouth — literally. Marty said she has baked as many as three wedding cakes in a weekend.
After all her years of baking, one might presume that Marty’s creative juices have run dry, but she still enjoys experimenting with new methods, especially when it comes to decorating.
“What makes it fun is I like to kind of try different things, new things,” she said.
The Martys have seven employees, including a few high school students, and they’re looking to add a couple more people on both the day and night shifts. Those extra hands will be a big help as the bakery’s fall and winter soup lunch special menu switches over in April to a brand-new sandwich line.
“Obviously, we’ve got the bread and croissants,” she said.
Along with the nine kinds of bread they offer daily, the Chetek Bakery has another 35 to 40 types of bread, such as bacon ranch bread and wild rice cranberry bread, that they sell in rotation, usually a couple at a time.
Many of their recipes, including the one they use for their famous baked beans, date back to the bakery’s original owners.
While recent low-carbohydrate diet fads sometimes take a toll on baked-goods sales, Marty said everyone deserves an occasional indulgence.
“No matter what diet you’re on, you need a treat,” she said. “You come in and buy a doughnut and have a treat; you don’t have all that at home.”