Do you smell that? It’s the smell of home baked cookies, pastries, donuts and other goodies that has filled the downtown O’Fallon air for over 40 years from town staple Wood Bakery on West First Street.
As a town fixture, it has become a recipient of the O’Fallon-Shiloh Chamber of Commerce’s 2013 Heritage Award.
According to Jim Schmitt, current owner of the business with his wife Barbara, he has been at the helm since the establishment’s inception in 1967 when George Wood, previous owner, opened its doors.
“We started together. He bought the place, and said ‘I’ll buy it, if you run the place.’ So we gave it a shot, and I’ve been baking ever since,” Schmitt said.
Schmitt said his wife has worked in the bakery for the past 25 years. After Wood passed in 1999, the couple took ownership of the bakery in 2000 with an easy transition.
“We had the same staff, and I was running the place as it was, so the shift was smooth,” Schmitt said.
Schmitt said it used to be that there was a bakery in every town, and now the numbers are dwindling, but hard work and love in every spoonful of batter has kept the shop going all these years.
With baked goods ranging from fresh baked cookies, muffins, donuts to pies, strudels and cakes — the customer base has grown over the years beyond just locals, bringing them back even if they’ve moved out of state.
“We’ve always tried to put out a good product — and that’s the main thing,” Schmitt added.
Top sellers at the shop are glazed donuts, decorated cookies, peanut coffee cakes, German chocolate Danishes, cream filled long Johns and Bavarian cream puffettes.
“Our decorated cookies are a big thing now, we have cookies for all occasions,” Schmitt said. “We have white rabbits for Easter, ghosts for Halloween, hearts at Valentines day, snowmen at Christmas, shamrocks for St. Patrick’s Day and the all occasion white icing bear cookies,” Schmitt said. “We don’t buy cookies from the bakery suppliers like other shops, everything we have here is made here.”
The proof is in the pudding, as loyal Wood customers are eager to explain.
Parke Smith, of Lebanon, said his loyalties don’t just lie with the goods, but also with the customer service, as he mentioned he ordered a cake for his son’s birthday in the morning on Friday, April 5, and it was ready for pick up that afternoon.
There was a time a while back when the Smith’s were in a crunch for a baked good late on a Saturday evening, leading them to purchase from a local grocery bakery, which Smith said was not even close to the quality and traditional flavor of a Wood Bakery product.
“They do specialty items like this, you can’t buy a big Black Forest cake anywhere, it’s the best,” Smith said. “Wood Bakery is one of the only local bakeries...they make good stuff, it’s almost the next best thing to home cookin’.”
O’Fallon resident Garland Fields, his son Montrez Fields, and Montrez’ fiance Keyonia Hughes stopped in the shop for a quick snack Friday afternoon, April 5, also, which Garland added, “the best thing about this place is it’s prices.”
“I’ve been coming here since I was a freshmen in high school, and now I’m 37,” Montrez said. “I like the home style taste. They’re like traditional style donuts versus Krispy Kreme and Dunkin’ Donuts...it’s just more fresh too.”
One thing Schmitt has loved over the years is the hands on baking. He said Christmas time is his favorite when his shop prepares more than 600 dozen German anise flavored Springerle cookies.
The shop delivers its goods to over 50 combined convenience shops, retailers and hospitals as far east as Carlyle, to Freeburg to Edwardsville and Cahokia with Circle K convenience mart’s, Moto Mart gas station’s, Farm Fresh Dairy store’s, St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Belleville, Anderson Hospital in Maryville and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Breese.
One obstacle over the decades for the bakery has been competition with big box retailers marketing similar products at a lower price, but Schmitt said individuals can see the difference themselves.
“They think it’s cheaper, but is isn’t always,” Schmitt added. “We make everything here in house with close attention to the details.”Schmitt said he stays attuned to the industry’s ebbs and flows with his membership to the Retail Baker’s Association, and conferring with other area bakers as well.
“The biggest problem facing the bakery today is the high cost of ingredients,” Schmitt said. “Everything is getting sky high.”
Long time employee of close to 30 years, Jeanne Mead, of O’Fallon, said the shop sees about 300 patrons daily, and on the weekend that number doubles.
“The Saturday before Easter was one of our busiest days, which it’s like that every year,” Mead said. “Holy moly, it was unreal, you could barely fit more into the shop there were so many people here.”
Both Schmitt and Mead agree that the shop has a high volume of repeat customers who have been coming in for many years without fail.
“The girls that work here everyday see someone coming in the door and they bag it up before they get here,” Schmitt said. “We have a lot (of customers) like that, who come in and buy the same thing every day — some people even have the exact change ready, and walk out with a smile on their face.”
Mead also said she has watched customers grow over the years from young children to adults bringing in their own kids.
“I know people who’ve been coming in here for 20 plus years, that’s how faithful they come,” Mead said. “You know you must be doing something right if they keep coming back.”
According to Clara Darling, 19, of O’Fallon, who started working in the shop during her high school career three years ago, she loves the variety in customers.
“I always like asking people where they are from because we get a lot of people in here who are on vacation who used to live here. Like we had a guy come in who was from Kenya who came in and said he couldn’t come to the area without stopping by,” Darling said.
Shop manager since 1979, Bill Dohlke, of O’Fallon, said he hadn’t planned on making baking his career, but it’s just worked out this way, as he loves what he does, just as Schmitt did when he started. Dohlke’s time at the bakery isn’t always like work, he said, it’s enjoyable and with a crew of about 25 the bakery staff are close niche group.
“It’s a small place and it’s like family here,” Dohlke said. “I love working the ovens...there’s a lot of time management involved with the baking. An old saying is, you can always add a minute, but you can’t take one away,”
Schmitt said something the staff tries to remind customers to secure their cakes and pies, especially wedding cakes when transporting them due to previous experiences like when, “We’ve had people buy a cake, set it on top of their car, drive around the block, the cake falls off and they bring it back in pieces to ask, ‘can you fix it?’”
“One guy bought a wedding cake that he set in the backseat of his car, which fell over, and when he brought it back he said, ‘nobody told me I had to be careful with it,’” Schmitt reminisces laughingly.
For more information about the shop go to www.woodbakery.com