by Maggie Van Ostrand
Is that a real bear standing in line at The Bear Claw Bakery, or just a very large person in a fur coat? That's not as weird as it sounds.
On December 14, 2002, John Donnelly and Steve ("Sy") Jones opened The Bear Claw Bakery in Pine Mountain Club.
"We've owned a cabin up here for years as a weekend getaway," said Sy. They originally bought a shell (just the frame of a house) in Pine Mountain in 1982, and John worked on it weekends, from the insulation on out.
Sy explained, "John was a draftsman and his company downsized so he was out of work. I was on medical "stress leave, " from my job as director of a private school."
"We decided to go to the cabin, relax, and figure out what the next step should be.
"One day, we walked to the Village Center talking about all the different things we could change about our lives, and one of the things was that we could move here full time. The question was, how could we make that happen? We both looked over and saw a "For Sale" sign in the window of "The Doughboy" bake shop" We didn't discuss it then but later that evening, I mentioned the bakery sign. John said, "Yeah, I saw that."
"Neither one of us could get the bakery out of our heads. So ... we bought it."
They had never owned a business in their lives and, when they bought the bakery, they put their own stamp on it, not only with specialized baking, but with interiors. They didn't want to just take over what had been there before. They wanted to make it theirs and started shopping for bakery furnishings before they even bought the place. They figured that if things didn't work out, they could always use the furnishings in their cabin.
Prior to their opening day, Sy and John were waiting in their empty bakery for the electrician. Someone walked right in past the "Closed" sign, looked at the dark and empty glass display case, and said, "What, you're all sold out already?" That man was a little early, but they've been pretty much sold out ever since. They're still in a happy state of awe when people say, "We're glad you're here."
John's mom has a reputation as an amazing baker, and it was by watching her that he learned to bake bread, cakes and pies. He has cooked all his life. Sy's mom specialized in Southern cooking back in Arkansas, and he once shocked his family by preparing lasagna for them, a dish they weren't familiar with.
John's hobby is working out in the yard, and landscaping the property. He advises that the dreaded bark beetle will not attack a healthy, moist tree, only dry ones, so it pays for us to water down the tree trunks regularly.
His second-favorite hobby is ... ready? ... shoveling snow!
"I love it," he enthuses. He shovels their own driveway, the neighbors' driveways, and anybody else's who needs help. Sy shovels, too, but he doesn't seem to enjoy it as much as John does. Well, not quite anyway.
Sy's hobby is cooking, and a favorite creation is the fall/winter dish, Curried Apple Soup. You'll have to ask him for the recipe.
Although both John and Sy are much younger than most people who eat dinner as early as 5:30, that's when they must eat so they can retire early and get to work by 2 a.m.
Sy's secret to a happy life is,"We like what we do." Adds John, "And we're here."
Looking back at their stressful lives before living full time in Pine Mountain, they wonder, "What was I doing for 20 years?" and, "What was I thinking?"
The most stressful day they've had since opening the bakery was at the beginning, when they agreed to take cake orders. One day, they made a wedding cake, and it took 12 hours. It also took their attention away from everything else, so they can't do that anymore.
Alas, brides will have to find another source.
When asked for words of advice to future entrepreneurs, Sy says, "For me personally, it's about how you'll never know unless you try. Just bite the bullet and go for it. Life's too short to sit and wonder "what if?"
John says "If there's something you really want to do and you have a passion for it, you'll be successful."
It has been rumored that, in the dead of night, real bears have been heard crying out for cookies. Several of these hirsute critters have also been spotted sniffing around the bakery in hopes of finding an unsold Bear Claw.
An unsold Bear Claw? Fat chance.
Reprinted by permisson of Maggie Van Ostrand
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