It was like a dream: At a recent local event, someone greeted me warmly and said, “I don’t know if you remember me, but you catered my wedding 22 years ago.” He said he still remembers fondly the food we provided, and even described his favorite item.
It amazes me that so many of our customers countywide still recognize and remember us and our products with affection and nostalgia.
I really shouldn’t be surprised. Cambrians can be fiercely loyal to businesses they love, and perhaps that’s why so many people have been reeling in the past year or so from the changing of the guard at several prominent local businesses and the closure of others.
That’s certainly understandable. A good professional cultivates an atmosphere at his or her store, restaurant or clinic that fosters loyal, return customers and patients — the very people most affected when that business changes drastically or closes its doors forever.
But what about the owners?
Even if they sold their dream businesses at a good profit (and very few of them manage to do that), it’s still a huge life change to walk out that door for the very last time as the owner.
As a founder long ago of what has evolved into the French Corner Bakery, my time spent at the shop’s ovens and mixers, or behind that counter, decorating table and big, long maple butcher-block, was very special to me.
How special? Even today, I frequently dream about those 15 years in which we invented, baked, cooked and decorated good things to eat, catered meals for events and fed as many as 600 people at a time, as far away as Santa Barbara.
(Sometimes those dreams are rife with imaginary frustrations — a forgotten catering assignment, a dropped wedding cake, a long-ago working life run amok — but that’s a former business owner’s version of the “I’m at school and don’t have my homework, or haven’t a clue what this test is about, or can’t find my locker or home room” nightmare rooted in the past and nurtured by today’s aggravations.)
It was a wrenching decision to sell the bakery.
Sure, we were leaving behind the fiercely brutal hours, constant stress and physical exhaustion. But we’d created the shop from whole cloth (actually, from a service-station lube bay and a bookstore, your basic “starting from scratch” operation), so we could be in Cambria to care for my mother and have more time to spend with our two teenage boys, who worked with us for a decade or so.
We loved it, a newlywed couple working side by side.
Then my mom — our most devoted cheerleader, mentor and customer — died, which not only broke our hearts, it took some of the spark and enthusiasm out of our bakery ambitions.
Passing time turned our sons into adults, but also meant Husband Richard and I were getting older, too. A combined bakery-catering business is much easier to tackle with youth in your hip pocket, not to mention in your hips and other body parts.
We agonized over it, but we sold.
We didn’t totally disconnect from the food biz. Son Brian and Husband Richard built, and we later sold, another out-of-whole-cloth venture, a catering kitchen.
It, too, is still in use as Red Moose Cookie Company.
We’ve adapted, mostly (dreams notwithstanding). Fortunately, as a lifelong writer, I’d begun writing a column for the two papers early in our bakery days, and just kept doing it. In 1991, while we were still catering, I offered to fill in as a reporter during an editor’s medical emergency. I’ve been here ever since.
Husband Richard, chef son Brian and I are still connected to the bakery and the cookie shop, but now it’s as customers.
We patronize them because their products are good — some are eerily reminiscent of favorite goodies we used to make.
But we also like to check in, rather like proud, careful parents making sure our children’s new spouses are treating them right (they are).
Because there’s no customer more loyal to a good business than a former owner who still loves it enough to dream about it now and then.
Kathe Tanner is a reporter for The Cambrian and The Tribune. Her "Slice of Life" column appears biweekly. Email her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @CambriaReporter.