Baking Wright

REED CITY — At 11 p.m., while most people are sleeping, the baking is just beginning at Wright’s Bake Shop in Reed City.

“I’m taking into account what I made versus what was sold,” said John Hanna, owner of Wright’s Bake shop, as he checked inventory on the evening of Tuesday, Oct. 5. “That’s what’s going to tell me what I’m going to do today. The last thing I look at is the machine to make sure nobody called and made any orders.”

Hanna then measures ingredients for all of the breads that must be made for the following day. While he won’t begin to make the bread until 2 a.m., having everything lined up and ready makes the process smoother.

“They lied to you in school when they said you needed to know geometry,” Hanna said. “But if you paid attention (in school) to percentages, that would really help you because all of these baker’s formulas are in percentages.”

Most of the baked goods at Wright’s Bake Shop are made from scratch, a process that requires working through the night.

“It’s more than people think,” Hanna said. “Ten years ago I used to know people. They would say, ‘Come out and hang out with us,’ and I said, ‘I can’t. Not anymore.’ I bought into this business and this is now my schedule.”

Classic rock music and many cans of Coca-Cola have helped Hanna adjust to living nocturnally.

“Sometimes I wonder, ‘Do people know who I am around town?’ he asked. “Because I don’t get to see a lot of the other business people since I am on a totally different schedule. My business partners were lucky in the sense that there were two of them. Don (Wright) could work these hours and Karen could come in and work the front and be the face of the business.”

Hanna learned how to bake from Don Wright Jr. when he began working at the business.

“I don’t know of any place in Michigan where you can learn bread baking full time,” Hanna said. “You almost have to find an old school baker like I did. He’s still around so I can ask him questions.”

Hanna had no prior experience baking from scratch and didn’t see himself becoming a baker after spending 20 years managing bars and restaurants across the country. But Big Rapids is home for Hanna, who embraced the opportunity to buy into the bakery 10 years ago.

“When I came back to the area, it was kind of nice not to have to leave again,” he said. “You don’t find established businesses like this up for sale. I mean, this has been around for 55 years, and there has been a bakery on this location for more than 100 (years).”

Wright’s Bake Shop has many faithful customers who come in daily or place weekly orders, such as Pompeii’s, Schuberg’s Bar and Grill and several area cafes.

“A factory is still going to be able to (bake) cheaper than I am,” Hanna said. “I do it all by hand, so it’s pricier. I can’t compete with a factory.

“Back before World War II there was a bakery on every street corner because they hadn’t figured out how to hydrogenate oil. You didn’t have commercial shortening available, which allows you to make bread in mass production in machines and factories. Once they could (mass produce), they drove mom and pop bakeries out of business.”

The holiday season is around the corner, and Wright’s is preparing for its busiest time of year, when it does about 60 percent of its yearly sales.

“We probably make 30 to 40 different kinds of Christmas cookies,” Hanna said. “Plus, we will be making the coffee cakes in different shapes, German stollen, fruitcake cookies, cranberry cookies, we make a lot of stuff. It’s the moneymaking time.”

Items that are not sold at Wright’s are donated to the local food pantry or marked down and placed on the day-old shelf.

“We don’t waste anything,” Hanna said. “And if we do screw something up, somebody’s got pigs or goats. I’ll throw them out for the turkeys. They’ll eat anything.”

Wright’s Bake Shop, located at 119 W. Upton Ave. in Reed City, is open from 6 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.