A small and unassuming building houses the Frontenac Bakery. Photo courtesy Craig Hull, Crawford County CVB.
Onwer, Brian Hite, places another sheet of bread waiting to be baked in the giant brick oven. Photo courtesy Craig Hull, Crawford County CVB.
Employees help turn out 500-700 loaves of bread a day. Photo courtesy Craig Hull, Crawford County CVB.
A closer view of the brick oven used to bake the delicious Frontenac Bakery bread. Photo courtesy Craig Hull, Crawford County CVB.
Crusty bread loaves fresh from the oven. You can almost smell the aroma. Photo courtesy Craig Hull, Crawford County CVB.
Fresh fom oven to retail store, Frontenac Bakery bread doesn't stay long on the shelf. Photo courtesy Craig Hull, Crawford County CVB.
The bakery also makes and sells bread for stuffing and bread sticks. Photo courtesy Craig Hull, Crawford County CVB.
Brian and JoLynn Hite have been the proud owners of the Frontenac Bakery since July 2007. Part of the contract has always been that the original bread recipe be used. Photo courtesy Craig Hull, Crawford County CVB.
211 N. Crawford, Frontenac, KS 66763 [map this location]
The Frontenac Bakery is one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas Commerce because it has been operating for over 100 years in the same location using the same original recipe and giant oven.
In 1969 the Spritzer's daughter-in-law and husband, Irene and Mike Spritzer, took over the bakery and kept baking that bread and making customers happy until 1997. After Mike died in 1990, Irene kept it going on her own. She still lives next door to the bakery.
Ross and Kathy Piraro, another Frontenac Italian family, and their nephew Brian Pasteur stepped in next until selling it to Brian and JoLynn Hite in July 2007. Part of the contract has always been that they original bread recipe be used.
The Frontenac Bakery provides 500 to 700 loaves of bread to Jim's Steakhouse in Pittsburg and all six chicken restaurants located in Crawford County including Chicken Annie's, Chicken Mary's, Pichler's Chicken Annie's, Chicken Annie's Girard, Barto's Idle Hour and Gephardt's. Additionally, the bakery bakes bread crumbs and then those crumbs are ground into 100-pound bags and sold to the chicken restaurants, who then add their own secret spices to the batter recipe for cooking.
The Hite's have now purchased the Arma Bakery and have added to the product line. Bread, breadsticks, bread crumbs, dinner rolls and cinnamon rolls are now sold to local grocery stores in
PRESENT DAY STORY
Nothing says "home" as much as walking into a kitchen where a loaf of bread is baking. The aroma just naturally makes one feel welcome.
Now imagine the scent of 256 loaves of baking bread. That's what you would find at Frontenac Bakery.
"We bake an average of 500 to 700 loaves of bread a night," says Brian Hite, who co-owns the bakery with his wife, JoLynn. "That's during normal weeks... we'll be baking more during the holiday season."
And that's just bread. Each night, the couple and their crew of three employees, plus family members who help, also bake about 200 pounds of crumb bread (coating for frying or baking), 400-600 bread sticks, and bread pieces for stuffing. They now are adding cinnamon rolls to the line up.
The breads include French-style (the most popular), Italian hard crust, and round loaves.
The couple lives in rural Cherokee where they also operate a cow/calf ranch, but their schedules are planned around the baked goods. Brian is typically up by 5:30 a.m. to feed and water their 175 head of cattle. The two arrive at the bakery around 7 a.m. to begin deliveries to six chicken restaurants, eight grocery stores and several restaurants. Each restaurant uses a different - and secret - crumb recipe for coating their chicken.
The Hites know that service is a key part of the bakery's success. "We like to do the deliveries ourselves - to talk directly to our customers," Brian says.
Preparation of the bread and other items goes on throughout the night. "Someone is here from 2 p.m. until 7 a.m. the next morning," Brian says. The mixing, then rising of the bread occurs in the early afternoon, with the baking continuing throughout the evening.
The giant oven, which dates back to when the bakery was started in 1904, is constructed of brick surrounded by sand to keep the temperature inside at an even 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
"You couldn't build an oven like that any more," Brian says. The couple also treasures the old, hand-written recipes given to them by long-time owner Irene Spritzer, who operated the bakery with her husband Michael for nearly 40 years.
"She also gave us her husband's old paddles," JoLynn says. "I was so thrilled to have them." Trays holding loaves of bread are slid into and out of the oven with the giant paddles. Approximately 256 loaves are baked at once, then removed to cool on metal shelves while the bread sticks and stuffing are baked. Then, the oven is filled again with loaves of bread.
Timing is critical to every step. The dough must raise the correct length of time, then be baked and removed from the oven to cool at the precise moment it is done.
The bakery's "family feel" continues under the Hites' ownership. There are aunts and uncles who lend a hand when needed. Daughters Kaylyn 15, and Madisyn, 8, help in the bakery when they aren't busy with school activities, and four-year-old son Colin is a real worker.
The couple depends on employees Dusty Schlesselman and nephew Tony Cussimanio to man the stoves during the evening. Long-time employee Kevin Holt comes in at midnight to slice, bag, and label the 500 to 700 loaves of bread and bread sticks. The process begins again bright and early, when Brian and JoLynn arrive to begin deliveries and to pick up day-old bread for use in stuffing.
"There are no preservatives to any of our breads, so the shelf life is about four days, although it freezes really well," JoLynn says.
With the bakery still located in a small, white building close to where it started in the early 1900s, the Hites say everyone in the area has a story about it. "We had a man in just this morning who said he remembered coming to the bakery with his mother when he was a little boy," Brian says.
A new retail room will be open Thursday-Sunday 8-11 a.m. but it's best to call first.