Dexter’s population grew more than 40 percent in the past decade, but at least one village tradition shows no sign of fading: hanging out in the morning at the Dexter Bakery.
Parents still stop at the long glass counter to let their children pick a doughnut on the way to school. On the other side of the high-ceilinged room, conversation and laughter fill the air around three long wooden tables.
Many of the regulars go way back–some almost as far as the bakery itself, which opened in 1915. One group of Dexter seniors socializes after doing water aerobics at nearby Wylie School.
Alice Lesser, eighty-eight, has been making the two-mile trip from Ann Arbor to enjoy coffee at 9 a.m. with her friend, eighty-two-year-old Louis Ceriani of Dexter, every Wednesday for the past twenty-two years. They used to work together at Edwards Brothers printers in Ann Arbor.
In the cold months, John Bates Mann, Bill Figg, and Bill Maloney of Dexter also meet up at the bakery at 9 a.m. Bates and Figg have been friends since the sixties at Pioneer High in Ann Arbor–where Figg was the drummer for the primal garage band the Rationals–and the two later taught at Washtenaw Com-
munity College. In the summer their meetings start an hour earlier, when they pull up in their classic cars and hold what they jokingly call a “neighborhood watch” at an outside table.
Maloney, sixty-nine, retired as a sheriff’s deputy in 1996. Every three years since then, he says, “I do something for fun.” With the motto “retire if you want to, but never quit,” he has driven a tow truck, worked at a golf course, and delivered motorcycles. He’s now in his third year as an assistant in the WCC welding and fabrication department that Figg chaired for twenty-five years.
The bakery opens at 5 a.m. Monday through Saturday and at 7 on Sunday. Russell Tanner, eighty-three, says he arrives as early as 6:30 to scratch off the numbers on his Michigan Instant Lottery tickets. He has two separate million-dollar lottery wins. He greets customers by name as they pass through the swinging brown door that onetime owner Joe Schnebelt Jr. had carved at an angle into the nineteenth-century building.
Karen Dudek bought the bakery in April 2008, only to see her business partner pull out just before the deal closed.
“Many customers didn’t want anything changed, from the recipes to the squeak of the front door and creak in the floors,” says Dudek, forty-seven. Still, she and her husband, Michael, worked to make the eating area cozier. They replaced the ceiling and lighting, painted, cleaned, and added new features, like low hooks near the tables for purses.
Dudek also brought back Bill Marx, who learned to bake the bakery’s famous German holiday delicacies from Jack Owen, his uncle, who owned the bakery from 1972 to 1993. Marx promises to have the bakery’s traditional holiday loaves and cookies, including lebkuchen and springerle, available the week before Thanksgiving.
Dudek recalls when her own youngsters got ready for school faster if they were promised a bakery stop. Now she drops off treats at her son’s and daughter’s schools in Dexter and donates day-old baked goods to nonprofit groups like the Dexter Senior Center. “I enjoy owning a business here,” she says, “because I get to see everyone.”