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End of an era

For almost 65 years, the Canby Home Bakery has been a hub of sorts in the downtown area. On Saturday, current owner Jeff Grengs will turn out his last long john.

July 16, 2011
Story by Cindy Votruba , Marshall Independent


During his life, Jeff Grengs of Canby has been a butcher and a baker. He jokingly says he can be a candlestick maker in his next career. After almost 25 years of owning the Canby Home Bakery, Grengs has not only sold the building but is selling the equipment as well. The last day of operation is Saturday, July 23.

And with the closing will be the end of an era that began more than 60 years ago.

Article Photos

Pictured are Seymour and Helen Lofthus and Canby Home Bakery employees back in the 1950s.

Seymour Lofthus bought the bakery in 1947 after he got out of the service and owned it for 35 years. He had worked in a bakery in Madison when he was 15 years old. During World War II, he did cooking and baking for the 34th Infantry Division. Lofthus worked for Cliff Werpy at a bakery in Marshall for a couple of years before Werpy told him there was a bakery in Canby available. Ann Yackley, Lofthus' daughter, said Werpy encouraged her father to start the bakery and his uncle, Oscar Lofthus, helped financially.

Back in 1947, Seymour and his wife, Helen, sold bread at 29 cents per loaf; cookies were 19 cents a dozen; rolls were 35 cents a dozen. Seymour worked from midnight until 8 a.m., did deliveries and then worked in the store until 2 p.m. Helen did the bookwork, putting in 12 hours a day. Yackley said her mother would sometimes get up at 2 or 3 in the morning to help her father at the bakery.

Two years into ownership, Seymour and Helen replaced the oven that was from the turn of the century with a stainless steel gas fired revolving oven.

Yackley remembers working at the bakery when she was a young girl. At age 5, she was dipping doughnuts and making boxes, she said. When she grew up, she started waiting on customers.

"That bakery was special and neatit taught me a lot of life lessons," Yackley said. "It taught me how to be with people."

Yackley also remembered how her father dressed as a baker with the white shirt and pants and white hat. The door was always open at the bakery, she said. "He (my father) had coffee on all the time," she said. Truckers would stop by while traveling Highway 75. Or if people were out for the night, they would stop in for a roll, she said.

"It was great; it was the pride my parents put into it," Yackley said. "It's just the fun they had, the guts to try and do and make things."

Seymour Lofthus died in 1982, around the time he and his wife was to celebrate 35 years of owning the bakery. Lofthus Yackley said her mother sold the bakery that year.

There were several other owners in between before Grengs bought the bakery in 1987-1988. He said he bought the business after the previous owners noted how often he was in when it was his turn to buy the rolls for breaktime at his job across the street.

Grengs said he generally gets to the bakery around 3 p.m. to get the batches of baked goods started, such as buns, bread and cookies and figures out what he needs for the next day. Then he'll come back at 10:30 p.m. to add water to what he mixed up and start baking until 6 a.m.

"Do the deliveries, then go home and go to bed," Grengs said. Grengs said he had experience in the food industry, plus his grandfather was a pastry chef in Germany. His mother, Doris Myers, also helps out at the bakery, he said.

Grengs had expanded the bakery into the former Lindrud Five and Dime store, adding space for customers to sit and have coffee and a storefront.

Eleven years ago, Grengs had remodeled the bakery kitchen, setting things up so it had a flow. He took out the old oven Seymour and Helen bought in 1949 and moved some things around.

In April 2005, Grengs had sold the bakery, but the owner who bought it declared bankruptcy after a few months. The following January, he bought it back.

"It was either walk away from it or take it back," Grengs said. He planned to get the business back on its feet and make it viable. "I didn't really want to go back in it but I had no choice."

Grengs turned 50 this year and he knew he wouldn't be able to make it to retirement age if he kept working at the bakery.

"It's hours and hours of standing on your feet," he said, plus the being up all night and sleeping during the day. "So I decided enough is enough, 25 years of this life."

So he sold the building to the owner of Delightful Treasures who was looking for a spot to expand. Grengs said when he first made the deal to sell, it was bittersweet.

"On one hand, I was relieved, on the other hand, I was nervous," Grengs said.

In a 15-year time period, Grengs figured he's squeezed out about a million cookies. He said he's been showed different techniques for making cookies.

The bakery equipment is being sold in an online auction, Grengs said. A couple of the pieces have been in the bakery since the early 1960s, which includes an Erika bun rounder.

"Every bit of equipment gets used every day," he said, and bakers refer to the Erika as the "girlfriend," mainly because of the name.

Throughout the years, the Canby Bakery has had several accounts with local businesses, such as the Cenex, Parrot Bay and the hospital. And usually Grengs provides the bread and buns for a couple of food stands at the Yellow Medicine County Fair, which is July 28-31, after the bakery closes.

"I still plan on doing those, but in the daytime," Grengs said.

As for the last official day, Grengs is going to have a silent auction on one of the most popular baked goods.

"My very, very last roll I'm gonna put on a screen is a long john," Grengs said.

Grengs said there will be a silent auction for the long john, which will be bigger than usual. The money raised will be donated to the food shelf in Canby.

Since word got out about the closing, Grengs said he's seen the shelves get emptier, buying breads and mocha bars.

"People were talking about freezing them," Grengs said.

Lofthus Yackley is glad that Grengs and his wife, Sherri, have kept the bakery going in Canby and is thankful for their efforts.

"My parents would have been proud," Lofthus Yackley said. "He (Grengs) has done a fantastic job. It's going to be a very big loss to the town of Canby."



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