Deb Tuohey with a picture of her “salmon” cake

Deb Tuohey with a picture of her “salmon” cake

Cinnamon buns and history

It takes a lot more than four walls, a roof and a cash register to run a successful business.

It’s a little old building, sitting by itself on 3rd St. in Ashcroft, but everyone knows where the Ashcroft Bakery is. That little old building may hold the most character (or is that the most characters?) and the most heart in town.

Deb Tuohey has spent most of her life in Ashcroft, working at one job or another, but most people know her as the owner of the Bakery. Possibly because she makes it her business to talk to everyone who comes through the front door.

It’s a rare occasion when customers aren’t jammed into the tiny shop, shoulder to shoulder and trapped against the glass display cases full of pastries and cookies and freshly made bread.

When the Tuoheys, Deb and Bob, bought their house on Brink St. in 1999, the bakery was empty. It had been a bakery since 1961, changing hands a few times. The last owners couldn’t make it profitable and closed it two  years after buying it.

Tuohey looked at the little gray empty building every day from her house, thinking “It looks so sad. Such a sad little building.”

The house behind it was built in 1932, the storefront was added following year.

After months of looking at it, she and her sister Rayla bought it in 2000. They spent three months cleaning it and opened in 2001.

But as neither one of them had owned a bakery before, they contacted the baking supply company who sent out a representative to give them lots of tips on how to start and run a bakery.

They gathered recipes from their family. They learned how to use the equipment, most of which had been left behind by the former owners.

The bread slicer and mixer were pretty straightforward, she says. The slicer was made in 1938 and worked fine but it consistently produced one fat slice – a trademark of their bread. The dough shaper took some getting used to. The great big 60 quart mixer is still in use.

Tuohey says there was another big old mixer which was used until parts could no longer be made for it.

“It’s across the street in Bob’s garage with the old slicer,” she says. “Can’t get rid of them – they’re a piece of history, right?”

The bakery’s history is almost as important as her customers who, by the way, aren’t customers – they’re friends. When she eventually sells the business, she wants to new owners to know its proud history.

They started with bread in those early days.

“The first loaf was sad,” she says. But Laurie Webster, their realtor, was also their first customer, and he bought it. “The community was so good to us.”

She says while they were filming An Unfinished Life in Ashcroft, Robert Redford would come in for his jelly donut. He liked his jelly donut, she says, and Morgan Freeman, too. Jennifer Lopez didn’t like the coffee and had hers flown in.

And everybody likes cookies and   donuts, so that’s what they offer.

Their mother and grandmother were bakers. Grandma had a specialty called lily cookies with cream cheese in the dough.

In the years since, the bakers has developed its favourites – the peanut butter, chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin and ginger snaps are keepers. Other cookies come and go, depending on popularity.

Other cookies, that is, other than David’s Mom’s. “Which was from David’s mom,” she emphasizes.

David was a paramedic here about 12 years ago.

“He came in one day and said ‘My mom makes the best cookies – can I bring you her recipe?’”

They told him to bring the recipe. If they liked it, they would need his mom’s permission to reproduce it.

“Because, you know, people can be pretty tight with their recipes.”

David returned with the recipe and his mother’s blessing.

“It’s a chocolate chip cookie with pecans and oatmeal and they are delicious,” says Tuohey. “And they’re one of our best sellers.

“And one day after probably five years  in comes this lady, and she comes up and she says ‘I’m David’s mom’. He told her that we called them David’s Mom’s cookies, and she was quite pleased,” Tuohey says, her eyes twinkling. “I’m sure they have some other name but for us they’ll always be David’s Mom’s.”

Anyone who’s had one of their cinnamon buns won’t be surprised to hear that it’s their best seller.

“We usually sell out of those every day ,” she says.

“We had a cinnamon bun go all the way to Amsterdam,” Tuohey says.

When Marijke Stott’s cousin was visiting from Amsterdam, he developed a liking for the bakery’s cinnamon buns. So when the Stotts decided to return the visit, “they took one freshly baked, and they wrapped it up and they did a quick freeze on it and then they wrapped it and wrapped it and wrapped it so it was all frozen really solid, put it in their luggage, got to Amsterdam and gave them their fresh cinnamon bun!”

Rayla retired from the business a few years ago, but before they opened, they worked on a business plan with Community Futures. Although she had a plan in her head, putting it down on paper made things clearer and showed her how to keep her head above water when the cash was flowing the wrong way.

It’s not all cookies and jelly donuts at the bakery. She says they wanted to offer quick lunch fare for the office workers to either take away with them or to sit and eat. That’s how they came to offer soups, sandwiches, salads and other grab and go items. That was a part of the business plan that wasn’t in her head.

She considers the bakery a success. “You never do anything thinking this might fail,” she says. In the early days, they visited all of the bakeries they could find to see how they operated. She and Bob still visit the local bakeries whenever they’re travelling. “Bob doesn’t even complain anymore,” she laughs.

Somewhere along the way, she took a little course in cake designing in Kamloops. After that, it was “practice, practice, practice.”

“Some of my first cakes weren’t that beautiful,” laughs Tuohey.

But she loves the challenge. In recent years she’s taken on some big cake projects like the HOG Run’s 25 anniversary, and the 25th anniversary of Highland Valley Copper.

“I come up with some of my own original ideas,” she says, “but lots of the time I get inspired by looking at other things and then I go ‘Oh dear, I can do that,’ and I’m dumb enough that I don’t think I can’t.”

Her most recent cake is a fish that looks like a salmon.

She and Bob went to a baker’s convention four years ago in Las Vegas where she got to meet Buddy from Cake Boss (HGTV) – something that still thrills her.

“People from out of town think it’s cozy and it’s cute and ‘wow, we offer a lot for a small town’” but people come back because it brings back memories – not to mention the food is delicious.

Some of them remember the bakery from their childhood, some come back because they were hooked on the first visit.

“It’s about talking to people, and knowing what they want,” she says.