By IGOR GURYASHKIN
Some of Marguerite Schadtâ€™s early memories are wandering the floor of her familyâ€™s bakery, watching her grandfather and father icing cakes, pulling loaves out of the oven and putting smiles on customerâ€™s faces. Today, Marguerite Schadt, along with her husband Dan, is the one in charge of the family business â€“ Heitzman Traditional Bakery and Deli on Shelbyville Rd, just as her great grandfather Jacob Heitzman had done from 1891.
In one respect Heitzman is like every other bakery. The Schadts are adept at producing the staples â€“ bread, bagels, danishes and muffins as well as sandwiches and breakfast items. But unlike most bakeries, their recipes stretch back generations, going unchanged for decades. Because after all, why fix something that isnâ€™t broken?
â€œWe have recipes that date back to 1891,â€ explains Marguerite Schadt, the youngest of the fourth generation of Heitzmans. â€œWeâ€™ve been open for 123 years, so there is a trust factor.â€ As Schadt walks around the store sheâ€™s keen to show off a kuchel (German for coffee cake) and one of those famed items with an unchanged secret recipe.
â€œYou know I could have went on to something else, but this is my love and itâ€™s what I grew up with. Iâ€™ve been in this business since I was 5 years old and I canâ€™t think of anything else Iâ€™d do. Iâ€™ve been in it since I was itty bitty and to actually be able to feed the public puts a huge smile on my face.
Today, a total of 20 people work in the bakeryÂ 24-hours-a-day, seven days a week. There are five varieties of bread to bake at all hours, as well as breakfast, lunch and dinner to serve in their vast dining area. As the seasons change so do their in-demand products. Pumpkin pies are all the rage, and in a few months, treats for Thanksgiving.
An area where the Schadts have tried to move ahead of the competition is by introducing a vast array of gluten-free items as well as healthy and nutritionally-driven choices, especially given the amount of time thatâ€™s being dedicated to such issues in the press.
â€œGluten-free is one of the things that really stands out and itâ€™s something that weâ€™ve really been working on,â€ explains Marguerite Schadt. â€œWe do a lot of gluten free for kids â€“ we have cakes down to a tee, and weâ€™re working hard on bread. Also all of our donuts are trans fat free, while our danishes are baked and not fried.â€
But if gluten-free is a recent addition, one of the biggest and oldest staples of Heitzmanâ€™s is the wedding cake â€“ their piece de resistance. Much like their fabled recipes for kuchel or strawberry whipped cream, theyâ€™ve been crafting spectacular artistic cakes for years even if the price has changed a little.
â€œI came across a picture in the basement of a three tiered cake a few months ago,â€ recalls Marguerite Schadt fondly. â€œIt was $2.34, and this was back in 1934. Amazing. Though back then it was white cake only and you got the cake however my grandfather decided to decorate it, so you didnâ€™t get to pick and choose like you do today.â€
And customers certainly get to pick and choose by their thousands. Right now, the Schadts are in one their busiest periods of the year, with bethrothed couples looking to take advantage of the cool fresh fall weather thatâ€™s enveloping Kentuckiana. And where there are weddings there are glorious cakes. Just next week they have 19 slated.
â€œPeople ask me how many wedding cakes Iâ€™ve delivered over the years,â€ laughs Dan Schadt. â€œAnd you know what, itâ€™s probably 15,000 cakes that Iâ€™ve delivered.â€ From the understated to the ridiculous, the Schadts have seen them all. UofL and UK themes are common. Just last week they made one resembling a fish. But there is one that still gives Schadt nightmares.
â€œThe biggest cake we ever made was for a wedding at The Olmstead,â€ recalls Dan Schadt. â€œWe baked a nine-tier cake where the bottom section was 24 inches in circumference. We had to deliver it in sections and assemble it right there. I had to literally psyche myself up to let go of the final section as I was on top of the ladder.â€
Summer has ended and soon fall will turn into winter and another year will commence in the storied history of Heitzman Traditional Bakery and Deli. But as the years go by, one thingâ€™s for certain, the Schadts will be there and so will further generations to continue the work that was started over a century ago by Jacob Heitzman in 1891 â€“ at the the heart of which is nothing but sheer dedication.
â€œWe work 60-70 hour weeks and people ask how we do it,â€ explain both Schadts. â€œIt does take a lot of dedication. But you know there is great satisfaction in the work. We get to see something through from beginning to the end and there are very few jobs where you get to do that and experience that kind of satisfaction.â€
While dedication is one thing, people still expect delicious food, and itâ€™s been something that Heitzman Traditional Bakery and Deli intend to deliver for another hundred years.
â€œPeople know itâ€™s made from scratch,â€ says Marguerite Schadt proudly. â€œThis isnâ€™t a frozen bagel or a frozen egg, or something thatâ€™s coming out of a box â€“ itâ€™s actually made by our staff or baked by my husbandâ€™s hands and itâ€™s a wonderful thing.â€
Heitzman Traditional Bakery and Deli is located at 9426 Shelbyville Road.
Photos by CHRIS HUMPHREYS | The Voice-Tribune