A sweet success story: West End Bakery will close after nearly a century
MISHAWAKA, Ind.—It’s the end of a delicious era for West End Bakery in Mishawaka.
After nearly a century of serving sweet treats, the family-owned bakery will close its doors for good on Saturday.
West End Bakery sits just south of the St. Joseph River in Mishawaka at 414 West 7th Street, in a quiet, unassuming neighborhood.
From a bird’s eye view, buildings bear the same size and shape and their equal parts worn down brick and sun-washed signs signal an aging suburb.
In these parts, change is a rare occurrence.
West End Bakery’s simple, yet proven recipes have satisfied Michiana taste buds since 1928.
That consistency, some might say, is the secret to the bakery’s sweet success.
Now, after 93 years, owner Greg Fobe says it’s time to bake the last batch.
“We had it figured out Les and I, seven or eight years ago. We figured, well, I’ll be 70 and I’d be 62 at that time. We thought that was about right, so we’ve been going with that ever since. It just so happens that the time has come. It’s now,” Fobe said.
Fobe’s grandparents opened the shop in the late 1920's.
“Grandpa was into baking back in Belgium and before he started working here, he worked for the Oliver hotel,” Fobe said. “They started right down the street where the parish offices are, right next door to that was the original bakery building, which got moved to Logan and 7th, which is a house. They moved into here and lived in the back of the store.”
Despite the Great Depression and World War II, the business and the area thrived.
“There was a dry goods store next door. A furniture store across the street. DeCloedt’s floral. A hardware store. Then, on the corner, a meat market, a grocery store. It was a whole neighborhood. People didn’t have to go far,” Fobe said.
Fobe’s father would eventually take over the bakery, which meant a lot of visits from young Greg, who went to St. Bavo’s School down the street.
Those visits would eventually lead to a new job.
“I actually started when I was a junior in high school. The deal was, if I buy you your uncle’s car, you’re starting to work. I didn’t have a choice. That was around ’74 or ’75. Then, in ’76, the day after I graduated, I was in the hands of Les there,” Fobe said.
At the time, Laslow "Les" Kincses was just starting to make his mark in Michiana as the go-to baker. Forty-seven years later, not much has changed.
“His dad made me train him. He was a kid,” Kincses said,“The recipes that we had 50-60 years ago are still the same."
“I think people walk in and the store always resembles what it always has. I think people like that. If it would be totally modern, I don’t know if everyone would go for that. You change certain things, equipment here and there, like air conditioning," Fobe said.
Despite the slight improvements in technology, it’s always been Fobe and head baker, Kincses.
“It’s been many years since…we've got into a good one? Right. Minor ones, quite often, but not major ones. You work with a guy for all these years. Six days a week, you have to learn to get along. Get on each other’s nerves occasionally but not too often,” Kincses said.
Surviving each other is one thing, but working six days a week, with long lines and even longer hours, for half a century, is another.
Admittedly, the two are not as spry as they used to be and making the decision to step down was easier than some might think, despite the bakery’s loyal customer base, saying otherwise.
A reliable regular, Mishawaka Mayor Dave Wood, has been going to the bakery for years.
“Part of my family tradition, not just my generation, but from a previous generation. I can remember as a kid coming here with my grandfather every weekend to get my beloved sprinkled doughnuts,” Wood said.
Despite turnover in recent years, those in the community are keeping the faith.
“This neighborhood is going through many transitions. Many used to do business in small areas like this, then suddenly, malls came about. But now you are starting to see a return to these neighborhoods. I am very optimistic,” Wood said.
Sadly, barring a last minute sale and a boom in business, this neighborhood’s best days, may in fact be, behind it.
“Dry goods store has been gone a long time, hardware store [has been gone] 10 years or so. The grocery store probably in the late 60's was gone,” Fobe said.
While storefronts have evolved and the faces of frequent patrons have diminished, during these past nine decades, it’s been less is more for West End Bakery, with maybe one small regret.
“You try and keep your quality up, you try and keep your prices reasonable. Probably too reasonable. That’s been one of our downfalls I think,” Fobe said. “You do everything the best you can and everything at the fairest price and that’s about it. As far as I know, that’s one of the secrets to success. We’ve stuck to it all these years.”
Change in this charming old part of town never has been nor ever will be, a piece of cake. It is, though, inevitable.
Gone will be the Danishes and the old-fashioned doughnuts, the flour covered floors after 11 hour days, and the same customers’ smiles that have walked through the door, time and time again.
“A lot of the customers can’t imagine being without it but hopefully it’ll continue. It might be a last minute thing, you never know,” Fobe said.
Fobe says if a last minute deal isn’t done, plan B is to sell the building with everything inside.
West End Bakery will open up one last time on Saturday, June 27 from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
For ethical reasons, we want to share that Fobe’s son, Kyle, is the news director at ABC57 News.