Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Grote bakeries close after 50 years

By James McNair jmcnair@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati chili for supper, Graeter's before bedtime and, to start the new day, Grote Bakery for coffee and doughnuts.

        If this trio represented an appetite-sating tradition in Greater Cincinnati, it's time to find a new destination for the morning part of the routine. Grote, instead of celebrating its 50th year in business, is closed.

        Without warning its employees or suppliers, the family-owned company shut down its six Tristate bakeries at the close of business Saturday.

        Phones went unanswered at the stores Monday. A company handling the liquidation of its assets said Grote fell victim to the sputtering economy.

        “It's just a general economy issue,” said Leonard Eppel, president of Financial Resource Associates in Blue Ash. “I think it's been the last year or two.”

        For many residents, Grote Bakery was a locally owned standby, especially for those on the west side. Opened in Northside by Leonard Grote in 1952, the bakery became a favorite source of doughnuts, dinner rolls and, later, bread bowls.

        The chain comprised nine locations at the start of the year. Going into the weekend, it was down to six.

        A woman at Mr. Grote's house refused to discuss the closing Monday and hung up the telephone without taking a message.

        The family's departure from the business wasn't ungracious, however.

        “The family has appreciated the opportunity to serve the community for 50 years and was sad to leave the business,” Mr. Eppel said.

        A bakery supply truck attempted to make a delivery Monday morning at the Grote store in West Chester. Dr. Eric J. Koren, a pediatric dentist who owns the West Chester building occupied by Grote the last 15 years, said he didn't receive notice of the closing until Sunday night.

        “That was a real surprise to us,” he said. “The store was probably a good cash cow for them. That place was humming every morning, boy, when people started going to work. Starting at 6 a.m., there was always a string of people. This particular store did well.

        “I hate to see anyone bite the big one,” he said. “They will be missed.”

        Dr. Koren added that Grote had been in financial trouble the last six months and was trying refinance its debt. Irene Wessels, a seven-year Grote employee who last worked in its Carew Tower location, said the notification of the store's closing at 5 p.m. Saturday was sudden, but not entirely a surprise.

        Although 2002 was Grote Bakery's 50th anniversary, Ms. Wessels said the company could not afford to celebrate it.

        “We've been struggling for a while now,” Ms. Wessels said. “They fought very hard to keep things going for a very long time. We just couldn't beat the odds.

        “They're like family, so it's hard to say my reaction,” she said. “I feel for the family.”

        Staff writer Jennifer Edwards contributed to this report.


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