South Dakota sisters bring family bakery tradition from Bronx to ParkstonGregor Spitzer founded Spitzer’s Bake Shop in the Bronx in the early 1950s. He and his wife, Louise, along with their son, Robert, ran the shop until its closure in the early 1960s. Now his granddaughters are carrying on his talent and dedication.
By: Anna Jauhola, The Daily Republic
PARKSTON — One of the things Spitzer’s Bake Shop co-owner Christine Perkins did while preparing to open was acquire a phone number.
When the phone company told her the number, she dropped the phone.
The phone number ended in 7104. Seven is her father’s birth month, and 104 was his New York police badge number.
“Every single day there’s something little that’s a sign,” said Marie Spitzer, co-owner and Perkins’ sister.
The sisters opened Spitzer’s Bake Shop on Feb. 14 in Parkston and have been going strong since. The New York City natives have found a home in the town, where they say everyone is friendly and welcoming. Their late father and grandfather, Robert and Gregor, would be happy and proud, they said.
Gregor Spitzer founded Spitzer’s Bake Shop in the Bronx in the early 1950s. He and his wife, Louise, along with their son, Robert, ran the shop until its closure in the early 1960s. In that time, Robert Spitzer became an expert cake decorator and baker. After the shop closed, he became a police officer and was often called “the police officer that could cake-decorate,” Spitzer said.
Now his daughters are carrying on his talent and dedication. Perkins is the cake specialist, creating everything from extravagant wedding cakes to simple, fun cupcakes. Spitzer is the bread and pie master, perfecting rye, sourdough and other breads, along with New York cheesecakes, pumpkin, banana cream and other pies. They both work on various other items, too.
Unlike their grandfather and father, the women do not work from scratch with everything. They are currently experimenting with box recipes and adding their own twists. But, 90 percent of what they create is from scratch.
“Everyday unfolds slowly,” Spitzer said. “You never know what you’re going to do.”
They receive many off-the-cuff orders each morning from townsfolk who want something in the afternoon. Some request orders even sooner than that. Many teachers at the school keep the shop on speed-dial.
“So, apparently, they like us,” Perkins said.
Perkins moved to the area with her husband, Bruce, about six years ago. They met in Dallas, Texas, after Perkins moved there from New York. Bruce Perkins’ mother was born and raised in Parkston, so they felt it would be a good move to be closer to her and other family.
When she found the perfect spot for a bakery in December 2010, she phoned her sister in New York.
“She said, ‘I have a place, I found a shop, you have to come!’” Spitzer said. “I said, ‘When?’ She said, ‘Now!’”
The sisters were so excited about the opportunity that Spitzer agreed and sold or gave away most of her belongings, rented a trailer and drove the 1,500 miles to live their dream. She arrived in Parkston in January and immediately had difficulty breathing in the below-zero temperatures. The warm hearts and welcomes from Parkston’s residents made her feel better.
The walls of the former Parkston Dairy and Bakery are now decorated with memorabilia from the original Spitzer’s, including photos of Gregor and Robert, and the actual utensils they used. Three small tables adorn the cozy eating area while the quaint counter area allows customers to view the sisters at work creating, decorating and talking.
“They love to stand here and listen to us talk,” Perkins said.
“The more we’re together, the more her accent comes back,” Spitzer said, thumbing at her sister.
The accent and difference in background does not seem to faze anyone in Parkston. Prior to arriving in South Dakota, Spitzer had no knowledge of farming, ranching or the wide-open spaces of the state. Many farmers who stop in enlighten her about their trade and invite her to come out to their property to look around.
“After I started meeting people, I immediately loved the people here,” Spitzer said.
Before she opened the bake shop, Perkins was the bakery manager at Walmart in Mitchell. At that time, she was involved in the community and enjoyed getting to know all the people who stopped through.
“I thought I was involved back then, but now I’m engulfed in (the Parkston community),” Perkins said.
The sisters work hard to support the community that’s supported them in their venture. Last year, before opening the shop, Perkins baked and decorated 1,500 cupcakes for the Heart and Sole Cancer Walk/Run in Mitchell. As a three-year breast cancer survivor, she feels it is necessary to give back to the community through the event. This year, the sisters will team up to bake and decorate 2,000 cupcakes for the event.
“We try to do as much as we can in doing our part and giving back,” Perkins said.
The sisters are constantly coming up with new ideas to market their business, the most recent one being a Kids Cupcake Club. Children who visit the bake shop to buy cupcakes receive a punch card. For every 10 cupcakes they buy, they receive the 11th free. Recently a little girl came in to purchase two cupcakes at 50 cents apiece. It was clear the girl’s family was not wealthy, so to make her day, Spitzer gave the girl a package of six cupcakes.
“Her mother blew me a kiss from the car,” Spitzer said.
That is just one way to give back. Perkins and Spitzer also donate all their day-old goods to the local food pantry, donate cakes or cupcakes for elderly residents’ birthdays or do special orders for school functions. This year, they created “Phantom of the Opera” cupcakes for Parkston’s after prom party
“What I’ve learned here is actions speak louder than words,” Spitzer said. “They watch to see if you walk the walk.”
The sisters have certainly found their niche in Parkston. Perkins said the start was a bit rocky, but now that they’ve found the people need to drive what the shop sells, they’re doing well.
“People here are leery to change,” she said.
However, the townspeople are finding that change can be good. Perkins and Spitzer are working some of their New York flair into the Midwest lifestyle with items like the Black & White cookie — a cake-like cookie, half dipped in chocolate, the other dipped in vanilla. Their new creations are welcomed by taste-testing customers.
Spitzer’s Bake Shop already has a loyal customer base. What’s the secret?
“We let the customers dictate what we do,” Perkins said.