It’s welcome news that Magee’s Bakery, a beloved Frankfort institution that closed Thursday, will be reincarnated a few weeks from now under new owners who promise to keep a tradition alive while adding some embellishments of their own making.
Lack of continuity is a common malady of local, family-owned business enterprises which sometimes become pillars of the community only to fade from the scene when customer tastes change or new managers take charge and find themselves unable or unwilling to carry on the hard work of their forebears. It’s one of the reasons chain operations dominate major retail markets anymore. Family evolution on the local level can’t easily disrupt stores and services controlled by corporate headquarters. Employees and supervisors come and go but the management principles endure so long as companies profit and hire people who abide by the rules. Chains often get a reputation for mediocrity but at least most are predictable – a quality that matters to travelers and local customers who have little patience with uneven performance.
Under Charlie and Alice Schwartz, Magee’s produced irresistible comfort food, the intoxicating aroma of its fresh doughnuts wafting over the sidewalks to tempt passers-by and remind them this workaday world still had a sweet spot on Main Street. The State Journal’s Kay Harrod, a longtime fan, told the story of how Thomas Schwartz, who ran the Magee’s bakeries in Lexington, moved to Frankfort in the 1950s and bought Winston’s Bakery, then renamed it Magee’s even though it had no affiliation with the namesake business. (Trademark protection was a little less stringent back then.) Charlie Schwartz learned the baker’s craft from his father and has spent much of his life arising in the wee hours to fire up Magee’s ovens and fryers.
When the Schwartzes decided to downshift to a less demanding lifestyle, they didn’t just want to sell the store, they hoped to find buyers who would honor and uphold the founder’s dedication. It took two years on the market but they eventually came to terms with Amy and Tom Bersson, a Virginia Beach couple who were familiar with the Frankfort bakery because of family connections here. They told reporter Lauren Hallow the doughnut recipe that’s captivated local residents won’t change but a few other things will. Magee’s will reopen as Magee’s Bakery Doughnuts & More. Amy’s daughter Laura, who graduated from the Culinary Institute of Charleston in South Carolina, will participate in the new business with her fiancé, Luke Ziegert. As head pastry chef, she plans to add some new goodies, and there will be tables where customers can enjoy luncheon salads and sandwiches along with the sweets.
Best wishes to the new owners and thanks to the Schwartzes for the memories. Frankfort is fortunate to have had a hometown bakery for six decades during which once-ubiquitous landmarks disappeared from central business districts – e.g. the movie houses that were a part of community life throughout America. It’s a shame that Frankfort’s Capitol Theatre, which staged live performances before it became a “picture show,” fell to the wreckers to make room for a parking garage – an urban concession to the automotive age that many motorists stubbornly resist even entering.
In its prime, the center city had a wider variety of retail establishments to serve customer needs. Some sold everyday essentials such as medicine, groceries and hardware, while others offered indulgences best consumed in moderation. Downtown should try to bring back some of the bygone diversity and also endeavor to keep stalwarts from closing shop forever when changes of management and/or ownership inevitably occur.