Nell Turner has worked at Sutton’s Bakery on Main Street for 28 years. “I love customers,” she said. (Staff photo: Andy DeLisle)
By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer
All is quiet in the bakery where owner Frank Simmonds rests on a stool in a drafty back room, his head hung low, flour from the morning still powdering his shoes.
Cooking at Sutton’s Bakery, he curtly explained, is a dawn affair.
Since he was 24 years old, Simmonds has risen at 3 a.m. to prepare pastries and desserts by hand.
When Simmonds began working at Sutton’s, he was fresh out of the military — where he was also a cook — and eager to continue his trade. World War II had just ended, and the bakers relished the lifting of a sugar quota that had forced them to halt pastry and dessert production several times a week.
Simmonds purchased the bakery in 1971 from owners Erby and Goldie Sutton, who had decided to retire.
The name of the shop remained the same. So did many of its recipes and its Main Street facade.
“Why change things?” asked Simmonds, now in his 70s. “The bakery had been doing well with the public for 25 years.”
The quaint, mom-and-pop shop baited customers within a 100-mile radius of Clovis, Simmonds said. Back then, shelves were filled with pies, cream puffs, and chocolate-dipped brownies. And Simmonds could barely match the demand for his elaborate, homemade cakes, according to Mary Chavez, who has worked at the bakery for more than 16 years.
“We used to have a lot more to chose from,” said a nostalgic Chavez, dressed in the informal Sutton’s uniform — white pants and a white shirt.
As Simmonds aged, the bakery’s inventory dwindled, said employee Grace Finkey. “He can’t do as much with his hands as he used to,” she said.
The bakery’s trademark cinnamon buns slathered with chocolate icing still draw some customers, mostly longtime residents of Clovis, Finkey said. But business at the store has slowed to a trickle. Finkey says big chains, such as Wal-Mart, are smothering ventures like Sutton’s.
“I don’t want them to win,” Finkey said. “People sometimes don’t realize how long cakes sit on the shelves there. Here everything is a better quality. It’s all fresh.”
The store does have fiercely loyal patrons, according to Chavez. Evidence: The door swings open, and a man pops his head inside.
“We can’t stop by today. Just too busy,” he said, the bakery ladies smiling as he waves goodbye.
He and a few others stop by the Main Street store nearly every day. They sit at the table for two, perched underneath an oblong window in the bakery, and eat cinnamon rolls and drink coffee, available for a quarter a cup on the honor system.
For now, the bakery will continue as it has been. Simmonds hasn’t made retirement plans, yet.
“Age will take care of that,” he said.
“Maybe someone else will come along and give the store a try.”