Only three dates remain unmarked with red X’s on the calendar that hangs in the back room of Magee’s Bakery. The Schwartz family has sold the business and its final day is Thursday.
Owner Charlie Schwartz started marking off the dates when he knew the impending sale was official.
New owners will begin renovations in a matter of days following the closing. Charlie Schwartz declined to identify them until the sale is final, but said the bakery will still bear the Magee’s name.
Charlie Schwartz and his wife, Alice, daughter, Pamela, and mother-in-law, Shirley Lewis, will no longer be the faces of the institution at 225 W. Main Street known to all in Frankfort.
“It’s both a sad and happy time,” Alice Schwartz said. “We love our customers. It’s been the best part of our business. But it has taken so much of our lives and it is time for us to move on.”
Actually, Magee’s has been for up for sale for two years, and several came forward to buy, but up until now for various reasons, the bakery did not sell.
“We’ve been really reluctant to talk about this,” Charlie Schwartz said. “There’s always that chance that a deal may fall through. But as far as we know, it is official.”
Schwartz, 55, says he hopes to take the next six months to work on his health. He will serve as adviser to the new owners for two months.
“But I won’t have to be in here in the wee hours of the morning and stay until closing, or have to battle the snow and ice in the winter.”
There is also a non-compete clause in the contract.
“They can definitely be sure I won’t be going back into the bakery business,” he said emphatically.
A baker’s life is all Schwartz has known since he was a little boy – standing on a milk crate to wash dishes as he helped his father, Thomas Schwartz, in the Magee’s bakeries that he ran in Lexington.
In the 1950s, the family moved to Frankfort, and Thomas Schwartz bought the former Winston’s Bakery on Main Street.
“He named it Magee’s after the Lexington bakeries. There were no legal restrictions and he wanted to carry on the name here,” Charlie Schwartz explained.
“There was and is no affiliation with the Magee’s bakeries then and those that still remain in Lexington,” he said.
But Schwartz says the family owes a debt of gratitude to Don Hurst, the owner of Old Kentucky Candies.
“Don ran his candy business upstairs over Winston’s,” Schwartz said.
“He moved his business here to this corner, and in 1969 we bought the building on this corner from him.”
Schwartz’s fate was sealed, and for the past 40 years it has been a baker’s life, learned from his father.
Shortly after he and Alice married in 1982, his father became ill.
“That’s when I came to the bakery to pitch in,” Alice Schwartz, 52, said. “I worked in state government, but quit my job because the family needed me.”
Charlie Schwartz says after the death of his father, his mother, Ethel, wanted to keep the bakery open and it was up to him to help.
But when Ethel Schwartz became ill and passed away, Alice Schwartz’s mother, Shirley Lewis, who had retired in 1996 as a civilian employee of the Kentucky National Guard, stepped in. Over the years she has been there to help, always with a smiling face.
“I, too, have enjoyed working here alongside my family. You know, the sweetest thing they ever made is my granddaughter,” she said with a smile.
Lewis also has a daughter, Anita, and she and her children live in Texas.
According to Charlie Schwartz, all the recipes will remain with the new owners, bound in an original cookbook, “Magee’s Recipes.”
For many, there will be no more updates on the little girl, Pamela, they watched grow up. Professional photos of the youngest Schwartz have long hung in public view for all to see.
One of the earliest is of a 3-year-old girl in a baker’s hat, peeking up from the inside of an aluminum pan.
“A man once asked me what was the name of the little boy in the pan,” Alice Schwartz said as she laughed.
But Pamela, very much a beautiful young girl, is now a graduating senior at Frankfort High School and will head to Cornell University in the fall.
Unable to attend the interview with her parents because of school, Pamela wrote a short note she wanted The State Journal to share with readers.
“The bakery has really been my second home, and leaving will be bittersweet. Many of the people that have come in the bakery have helped raise me and saying goodbye to the bakery is like saying goodbye to them.
If anything I would like to thank the community that has raised me and my parents for the unique opportunity to experience a childhood filled with the love and support of a community and all the cakes and pastries whenever I wanted.”
Her parents couldn’t be more proud.
“I plan to spend this summer helping her get ready for college and then I’ll be out job hunting to help pay for it,” Alice Schwartz said.
Charlie Schwartz reminisces about the little girl who sat and slept on a mat in the back of a bakery. Calling her a tree-hugger now who plans to major in environmental sciences, he says there’s definitely not a baker’s life in her future.
But he echoes Pamela’s thoughts about Frankfort.
“If it weren’t for the people of this community over all these years, we wouldn’t have had the business this long nor have the memories we have,” he said.
Alice Schwartz says it’s very important to them that their customers know how much they mean to them.
“It’s what I am going to miss most, seeing all those people we have come to know and love. We’ve watched their children grow up, too. We now have several generations coming in.”
For the next few days, Charlie Schwartz and bakers Larry O’Connell and Nathan King will be up at 4 a.m. preparing the confections known to Frankfort – big yeast donuts, pastries of all varieties, cream horns, éclairs, chocolate and vanilla petit fours, thumbprint and wedding cookies, yeast rolls, salt rising bread, pies and cakes of all sorts.
“We’ve always made everything from scratch following the recipes my father gave to me, from the pastry to the creams that fill them,” Charlie Schwartz said.
There are also the holiday iced sugar cookies, designed as wreaths, trees, pumpkins, bunny rabbits and lots of UK and U of L basketballs this year.
“I’ve had customers tell me those cookies are their favorite things and think we needed to create a holiday every week so we would have them,” Alice Schwartz said.
Of course there’s a story about the ingredients inside many of the pastries.
“One woman stepped into the back one time and there was a large bucket of our pastry cream. She immediately pointed to the plastic tub and asked where we ordered it from,” Alice Schwartz said.
“That didn’t sit well with Charlie, and I told her Charlie made it almost every day from scratch – we would never order it from anywhere.”
Charlie Schwartz says his days over the course of the last couple of years have been made easier by his two assistants he now has – O’Connell and King.
“What they have meant to me is that I don’t have to rush in here in the wee hours of the morning and start baking. They know what they are doing and have the talent and all I’ve been doing, for the most part in the morning, is making the coffee, turning on the TV and reading the newspapers. They have been a blessing.”
That rushing into the bakery very early one Sunday to start the fires in the ovens wound up causing the bakery to catch fire about 18 years ago.
“I didn’t know there was a gas leak. The explosion blew out the front windows and the fire pretty much gutted the building,” he said.
The approximately five months of rebuilding were the longest time he has spent not baking.
Charlie Schwartz says 40 years of standing on concrete have taken a toll on his legs and he raises his pants legs to show his swollen limbs.
“I’ve not taken care of myself, and I now realize I need to do that,” he said resolutely.