SPENCER, Iowa - What takes 250 pounds of sugar? Five-hundred pounds of flour? Seventy pounds of "real" butter? And 20 pounds of pecans?
Answer: A week at Carroll's Bakery & Deli, located on Grand Avenue in the heart of the business district of this northwest Iowa city of 11,317.
"This is real food. It's not out of a box. We make everything from scratch," says Colleen Thompson, who, with husband Paul, has owned Carroll's Bakery since 1991.
"I'm here at 4 or 4:30 a.m. every day," Paul adds. "Every morning we make 60 dozen assorted doughnuts."
And every day, the staff serves 250 to 300 patrons. The number grows to a peak of 1,200 daily around Christmas.
The story of Carroll's Bakery goes back to at least 1922. According to Colleen Thompson, the Partlau family of Spencer owned the bakery from 1922 to 1928, when they advertised the store for sale in the local newspaper. Brothers John and Josiah "Joe" Carroll bought the bakery for a reported $7,500 in cash and a farm.
The Carrolls ran the operation before turning over to Joe's children, Joe and Marge, in 1951. The Carroll siblings managed it until November of 1990 when an area food salesman told them of a young couple in the Twin Cities -- a couple searching for their own bakery.
Colleen Thompson had been raised in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the daughter of a baker who owned Danish Maid Bakery. She met Paul Thompson in the Twin Cities and the two began working for Dorothy Ann Bakery in Woodbury, Minn. Paul managed the production area while Colleen handled the sales staff.
"We worked there together for three years," Colleen said. "We decided we'd better work together before we bought a business together."
The couple looked at business opportunities in North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Minnesota before giving Carroll's Bakery in Spencer an up-close inspection. Five months after starting their quest, the Thompsons purchased Carroll's. They assumed control in February of 1991.
Marge Carroll died this summer. Joe Carroll still resides in Spencer.
"It used to be that Joe would be in the back room and he'd tell stories to people at the counter and they couldn't get away," said Colleen, adding she utilized the former owners' advice on numerous occasions. "Now Paul is doing the same thing Joe did, telling stories from the back room."
The Thompsons didn't change the name of the bakery, capitalizing on the regional acclaim of the homemade cakes, pastries, pies and more.
"Marge wrote articles for years in retail baking magazines," said Colleen. "We liked Carroll's Bakery in the first place because of the reputation they had."
The business that had been in the same family since 1928 built that reputation on the back of things like butterdeijs (pronounced: BOO-der-DAYS). The Thompsons still produce those goodies by the thousands.
"A butterdeij is a Danish-type roll," said Paul. "It's a flaky crust dough that has an almond filling in it. It's a combination between cookie dough, pie dough and a short-bread dough. People think it tastes like apple, but that's really almond."
"The recipe was handed down and everyone who once lived in town comes back for it," said Paul. "It's been made here since 1928."
And that recipe, he said, isn't leaving the place. "We've never let the recipe out," said Paul. "In fact, I don't know if it's written down. It's really just in my brain. I don't use formulas for the most part any longer."
Spencer's lone locally-owned bakery offers cakes, doughnuts, pies, wedding cakes, rolls, cookies, coffee, cappuccino, soups, salads, sandwiches and more. The staff also specializes in pink champagne cake and Baileys Irish Cream cake. Carroll's is open from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The only slow time of the day, Paul commented, comes from 2-3 p.m., which is before school dismisses and prior to afternoon coffee breaks.
The production area is one of local legend, Paul remarked. Time was when children at the school across the street would barge into the back door of Carroll's and take nickel doughnuts right off the fryer. Those doughnuts, by the way, now cost 40 cents apiece.
The giant oven, which measures 10 feet by 10 feet, was installed at Carroll's in 1945. The unit, which can bake 48 dozen family-style cookies at once, is still used daily.
The Thompsons concluded that their move to Spencer more than a decade ago was a good one. Since then they have purchased a home and started a family. Daughter Cassondra, now 8, helps her folks on Saturdays. She dons an apron, hops on a bucket and cuts cookie shapes next to dad. When she was a baby, her mother laid her on a cookie sheet atop a bench at the store. Just another sign that the family operation endures.
Paul Thompson began baking 20 years ago. He did so for his sister who was expecting a child. "The family liked what I did so I kept doing it," he said.
The career has taken him out of the Twin Cities and into his own business in Clay County.
"I think it's been a good move," he said. "We like the small town atmosphere. Everyone knows us and it doesn't take long to get to work. In the Twin Cities it didn't take me long to get to work, because I worked in the middle of the night. But it took Colleen an hour to go 12 miles. Here, it takes a couple of minutes."
Said Colleen: "It's nice to have a say in what's happening at your business."