SYCAMORE – The Elleson family knows what it takes to run a successful bakery.
The trade has been in the family since the late 1800s, when Ken Elleson’s great-great-grandfather opened the Bon Ton Bakery in Davenport, Iowa.
“My mom and dad had a bakery, and their mom and dad had a bakery, and their mom and dad had a bakery,” Elleson said.
With such deep roots in the bakery business, it’s no wonder Elleson’s Bakery is still thriving in downtown Sycamore after 25 years.
The bakery opened June 28, 1987, at its current location in the 300 block of West State Street.
The Ellesons will celebrate their 25th anniversary Thursday with 25 cent specials on doughnuts, coffee, cookies and other items. Ken Elleson’s three children, Amy Elleson, 24, Eric Elleson, 25, and David Elleson, 26, all work at the bakery. Amy Elleson has plans to open her own bakery next year in Wisconsin.
“It’s all I know,” she said. “I grew up doing this.”
Ken Elleson’s experience is similar. He grew up working at his parents’ bakery and decided to open his first bakery on his own at age 19 in Kewanee prior to opening the Sycamore location.
For 25 years, customers have stopped in for fresh doughnuts, coffee and the bakery’s famous cinnamon bread. The family’s formulas, otherwise known as recipes, have been around for more than a century.
The family’s doughnut recipe even won at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.
“Everything’s baked from scratch,” Ken Elleson said. “A lot of formulas have been passed down.”
Amy Elleson said Elleson’s Bakery doesn’t use pre-mixed, just-add-water dough like some bakeries. She said none of their bakery items have added preservatives and everything is made fresh daily.
Baking starts at 10 p.m. to make sure the doughnuts, cakes and cookies are fresh for customers by the time the bakery opens at 5 a.m. For the most part, the bakery’s formulas have remained the same from generation to generation, although Ken Elleson pointed out they don’t use lard like his dad did in the 1960s.
Some of the equipment is still the same. The 100-quart mixer in the back kitchen is in use even though it’s from 1940. And all the dough is still kneaded by hand and an old-fashioned rolling pin.
Elleson’s Bakery also has seen fads come and go. Ken Elleson remembers times when English muffins, bagels, giant cookies and cupcakes were the rage. Shops specializing in those items popped up almost as quickly as they disappeared.
Time-tested recipes seem to keep Elleson’s Bakery customers coming back.
“Basically what everyone wants in the morning is the doughnuts,” he said.
He said he never pushed his kids to pursue careers in the baking business, but it appears the baking tradition will stay in the Elleson family for another generation. Like his sister, Eric Elleson hopes to own his own bakery, too.
It’s not easy work. The bakery is open from 5 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. seven days a week, and his day doesn’t start until 10 p.m. But it’s work he enjoys.
“I like to work with my hands,” he said. “Sitting at a desk all day isn’t something I enjoy doing.”
“We’re just like farmers. It’s all passed down,” Ken Elleson said.
Ken Elleson attributes the bakery’s success to the help of his family and the support of the community. He said he’s lived in a lot of towns, and Sycamore is by far his favorite.
“It’s treated us good,” he said. “I’ll never forget the people that helped me out. Sycamore just welcomed us. It was really super.”