Eau Claire baker makes bread, sweet buns, a tradition

By Lara Bockenstedt

If showing up is one of the more important things to be done in life, Sue Ranney is an expert.

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Sue Ranney preps dough for buns in the kitchen of her bake shop early in the morning Nov. 17. © 2015 Lara Bockenstedt

Long before the sun makes its appearance, Ranney shows up at Sue’s Deluxe Bake Shop each weekday morning.

“One thing about this place is every day is kinda different,” Ranney said.

Ranney has been working in the bakery business for well over 40 years. Much has changed, she said, looking around the walls of the bakery, including the people working beside her and the location. Without a doubt, the recipes and her love for the business have remained constant.

“It’s the greatest feeling,” Ranney said. “When people come in and say ‘Oh, you can never retire, oh, your stuff is so awesome.’”

A bell tinkles as the front door swings open, revealing several rows of fluffy, iced-baked treats. Customers likely haven’t seen such pies since their grandmothers baked them during their childhood. Handwritten cards label tempting flavors of apple, cherry and pumpkin.

Behind the counter, in the kitchen, three women work alongside each other, sporting black baseball caps and faded cream-colored aprons. They laugh while mixing flour and dough and discuss plans for their upcoming family Thanksgiving gatherings.

Ranney’s father was the first of the family to show up at the bakery when he began working at the original Deluxe Bakery on Barstow Street during the 1940’s. Ranney’s parents bought Deluxe Bakery in 1966.

When she was 10, Ranney started working in the bakery with her parents.

“You work all the time in the shop when your parents own a business,” Ranney said.

These times, she said, were the best memories she had.

“I enjoyed that so much,” she said. “Back then, that was really good, ‘cause I was with people that I love. It was a time to be close.”

After her parents retired, Ranney bought the business. The year was 1987 and the bakery has been called Sue’s Deluxe Bake Shop ever since.

Re-opening in November of ‘97 at Birch Street was an exciting event, Ranney said, with all of her regulars arriving to see the new location.

The plan was to keep things simple. Hoping to avoid exhaustion, Ranney would sell only treats such as ice cream. Ranney promised herself she would stay away from baking buns and bread.

Customers would have none of it.

“Oh, you make the best bread, you gotta make bread!” Ranney said customers insisted. “Oh, you make the best buns, you gotta make buns!”

So Ranney dusted off her apron and has been selling homemade goods – including bread and buns for the last 18 years.

Back in the bakery kitchen, the scent of finished buns summons Ranney to the oven where she pulls out the pan and inserts another.

All of the bakery’s goods are made on site. Ranney believes hers is one of the few around to make varieties from angel food cakes to sweet rolls to fillings entirely from scratch.

Regulars such as Scott Diggins and his daughter Lucy enjoy stopping in for after-school treats.

“We make it a point to stop in,” Diggins said. “We like to see Jeanie (who works the counter,) and she knows us by name.”

Ranney said she has the best customers. While some are getting older, many show up each day to purchase their favorites.

During the busier holidays, such as the upcoming Christmas season, Ranney said, she can always count on her wonderful employees to show up no matter what.

Sue Yzermans, or “Grandma Sue” as she’s known at the bakery, arrives at 4 a.m. to work the Danish end of the baked goods. She’s been showing up every weekday morning for the last seven years.

“It’s just been really great working for her (Ranney,)” Yzermans said, “and seeing the pride when the people come in and really enjoy our product. That’s the rewarding part.”

The bakery has won several awards. These include being listed as one of the top 10 bakeries in Wisconsin by Travel.com and winning local arts and entertainment magazine Volume One’s “Best Bakery” award for three years.

Just as Ranney learned the tricks of the trade from her parents, her children occasionally help out. Her son has been frying the “Christmas Rosettes” since he was 14 years old. Until she died, Ranney’s mother, too, came to the bakery to work on cake decorations.

Ranney said this is a trade she is interested in passing on to another generation, especially since her style of baking isn’t being taught anymore.

“It’s such a part of me,” she said. “I would love to have the name continue on.”

Until that day arrives, Ranney can be found at the bake shop at 3 a.m., baking the bread and buns her customers have come to count on. It’s all part of showing up.

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