In baking, there are certain ingredients considered binding agents that act to hold together the other ingredients. Those substances draw others materials together to form one cohesive unit.
Mary and Dave Schmidt were those binding agents for many years at Abby's Bakery in Wadena. The two were once the owners of the Wadena Bakery on Jefferson Street S., baking in their own businesses for 22 years in Wadena. They were later approached to be the bakers that would start Abby's Bakery, a central baking system next to Mason Brothers that could distribute baked goods all over the Midwest.
"They took a chance on us," Mary said. "It's huge to think that Mason Brothers as a company was willing to take that on blind sided and just kind of roll with it," Mary said.
Dave retired in Dec. 2016 and has been putting in overtime in his fishing boat. On Thursday, June 6, Mary also retired to join him out on the water.
Mary, 66, said when she and Dave, 73, were approached about the bakery idea by the Harrisons, they had heard that if it didn't work out, the building that was built could become a truck garage building. Luckily that never had to happen. The only trucks that needed to be worked on in that building were those that needed assembling out of frosting on top of a large sheet cake for someone's birthday.
Speaking of cake decorating, the first place cake decorating started was in what is now a janitorial room. Cake decorating, Mary's specialty, is now done in a huge room with space for a dozen decorators if the need should arise.
Both Mary and Dave marveled at the changes that have come to the facility that have helped them grow to the point where they now serve six states with well over a hundred types of donuts, breads, cakes, pies, buns, cookies and more goodies than a church basement potluck.
What was once done by six employees is now 42. What was once trucked to five stores is now over 380.
The facility grew with three more additions during their time. The size of equipment grew, too. When they make buns, we're talking pallets of flour. When they mix up a batch, it's a 300-pound pile of dough that can make 200 dozen hot dog buns. They started with three ovens but now 8-10 ovens are almost constantly baking, sending a tantalizing aroma into the streets of northeast Wadena.
Mary said many people tell her they like the idea of being able to bake for a living, but seeing the scale of baked goods done each day at Abby's is not like rolling out some dough on the kitchen counter. It takes an army to fulfill the many orders going out six days a week.
"This isn't your kitchen table," Mary said. But what it is is a company that the Schmidt's are very proud of.
"I think Wadena can be very proud of the fact that they have a company like Mason Brothers and Abby's that employ so many people," Dave said.
"We need more companies like this one in Wadena," Mary added.
Human Resources director Roland Gilbert appreciated all the work the two put into making the company what it is.
"Their loyalty and dedication is second to none," Gilbert said. "They put in a lot of years and a lot of hours to make sure that Abby's is what it is today."
Dave was known for keeping people on task in the bakery. One of his words of wisdom was, "if you can't talk and work, don't talk."
Now the two can talk all they want in retirement, leaving the work to those remaining.
Mary plans to spend more time with her grandchildren upon exiting the bakery scene, maybe even baking with them. She's also quite excited about an upcoming trip to Australia.
While Mary worked 24 years to build the bakery into what it is today, she said the business is in very good hands. Many of the employees are family members of the two, boasting over 150 years of baking experience among the family.
"That's probably what held it together at first," Dave said of the family experience in baking.
Four of the six were family from day one and many family members remain except for Dave, Mary and Dave's brother Dan, who passed away in 2016.
Mary's sisters said they might be knocking on the door of retirement soon too.
That family of bakers, decorators, packagers and more shared laughs, tears, hugs and confectionaries as they wished Mary well on her retirement. She and Dave toured the factory one last time before the retirement was official and reflected on the rise of the bakery and wishing others well.
Leaving behind a lifetime of work was not easy for everyone as Mary's sisters Diane Turner and Bev Lorentz shared how much they would miss having her around as they continue to work in the baking area. Hugs and tears were shared in the hours before Mary was off on her way. While the family worked together, Mary said at work they were workers, not family. Even so, the family bond, like the ingredients going into each bakery item at Abby's, is clearly strong.
Since 1995, The Schmidt family members have a combined grand total of 150+ years of dedication to Mason Brothers & Abby's Bakery. They include:
Dave Schmidt, Mary Schmidt, Bev Lorentz, Diane Turner, Danny Schmidt, Jacob Schmidt, Virginia Heldt, Ben Heldt, Amber Heldt, Lisa Brown, Debbie Hess, Val Schmidt, Carrie Lorentz and Dustin Anderson.