About 120 customers lined up on Clark Street early Tuesday morning in Andersonville as today is the final day for Swedish Bakery. A neighborhood icon, the bakery will close today at 6:30 p.m., ending business after 88 years. There was an extra layer of excitement on this Fat Tuesday as the bakery is one of the many which celebrate a Polish-Chicago tradition, the paczki.
Customers showed up as early as 5 a.m. to line up, and others will arrive later today, but the latter may be left with only breadcrumbs. News crews descended to fill their morning broadcasts as head baker Dennis Stanton surveyed the scene from outside his bakery as customers slowly trudged inside. He quietly ducked inside through the side entrance.
Stanton’s family is Greek and German, and they purchased the bakery 38 years ago from a Swedish family. Andersonville, Chicago’s Swedish enclave, counted on the bakery for nearly a century for birthday cakes, cookies, breads, and other baked goods. Many customers don’t know where they’ll go for baked goods after Tuesday.
“I have no idea what I’ll do without it,” said Heather McAllister, one of the customers crammed inside.
The historic bakery wasn’t a spot to connect on WiFi with a laptop, which can be a requisite nowadays to draw younger customers. In a previous interview with the Tribune, Stanton said that millennials looked for a “food experience,” but Swedish Bakery was merely “humdrum.” It was time to close, he said, as the family doesn’t have a younger member to take over the business. The building is up for sale.
The bakery limited available quantities in its final days. Some customers anticipated the rush and pre-ordered so they could skip the line and just pickup their food. However, if they wanted more than that pre-order, they needed to take a number for additional items. There was no circumventing the line. Some customers said they’ll throw a few goods into the freezer for safe keeping, as they’ll last for about five months when frozen.
Katy Kraeger drove down from Milwaukee on Monday and woke up at 5:30 a.m. to come in today with her father, Pete Kraeger. Katy Kraeger’s grandparents moved to Andersonville in 1960. The bakery was a family tradition. Today’s order would include cookies, marzipan cake, paczki and coffee cake.
“It was a place to get something special, my parents had six kids so it wasn’t like we could come up here and buy cookies [frequently],” Pete Kraeger said. “For special occasions we would come up here and get cookies or coffee cake.”
Don’t forget about the paczki, as the bakery had 16 flavors available. Surat Bashorun said she’s sampled them all, but she’s partial to one in particular. “Oh my god, the pineapple is the best!” she said, gushing.
About 40 employees worked at the bakery, and the Stantons are working to find them new jobs. While many customers walked out with smiles, holding big bags loaded with pastries, there was also a bit of sadness — even for those working behind the counter.