Thursday, May 02, 2013

Kalamazoo's bakeries put the frosting on the cake

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave Media
May 2, 2013

Karel Boonzaaijer at his bakery (Photo by Erik Holladay, 

You might say one thing three Kalamazoo-area bakeries have in common is tradition. One was started by a former European pastry chef, one by a third generation baker and the third by an Irish baker also using recipes from the Continent. Zinta Aistars talks with the bakers of Boonzaaijer's, MacKenzie's, and the Victorian Bakery.

Spot someone in Kalamazoo (Michigan) licking their fingers, or a bit of butter cream frosting on a grinning upper lip, and chances are good that they have been to a Kalamazoo bakery. Three popular bakeries are making Kalamazoo a sweet place to be:

Boonzaaijer Bakery
Karel Boonzaaijer wanted to go to medical school, not work in a bakery. "But my grandpa was a baker, my uncles were bakers, and so when Opa insisted, I said OK!" he says, his accent hinting of a Netherlands history, but his wide and warm smile proof of a revised passion. No regrets.

Boonzaaijer immigrated to the United States in the late 1950s, three diplomas to show for his training as a baker in Holland, and began working as a European pastry chef in Kalamazoo hotels. In 1961, he opened Boonzaaijer Bakery, today located at 126 E. Cork Street, with the family pitching in, wife Maria, his right hand, and their nine children, five of whom still work in the bakery today.

"There's a difference between eating and tasting," says Boonzaaijer, leaning forward, eyes alight. "We make the best, even if it costs more. Our customers understand this, and they are willing to pay more for the best."

Karel Boonzaaijer passed the business down to his daughter Maria and son-in-law Marty Horjus in 1990, but he is frequently present, watching his children and grandchildren work over the ovens and decorate the cakes and pastries. His standards are high, and he gave his son-in-law two years to meet those standards and show himself worthy of taking the reins of the business.

"I practiced at night to get the writing on the cakes right," Horjus says with a smile. And he exchanges a fond if respectful glance with his father-in-law. He was deemed worthy, and Boonzaaijer nods. "My writing is chicken scratch on paper, but not on cakes," Horjus finishes.

"We want to make something here that is unique, something that no one else can make," Boonzaaijer says. He speaks of purity--in ingredients, in lifestyle, in passion, in service. He speaks of continual striving, forever seeking improvement to recipes, of precision in measuring ingredients, and of exceptional customer service.

He speaks of the privilege of working long hours to create delicious treats for the bakery's appreciative customers, returning again and again to purchase cakes, pastries, chocolate éclairs, although Boonzaaijer Bakery has never advertised any of them.

"Word of mouth," Boonzaaijer says. "Good, better, best, never let it rest," he recites. "Until good is better and better is best."

MacKenzies Café and Bakery

The most important ingredient in a good recipe is personal contact, decided John MacKenzie, president and owner of MacKenzies Cafe and Bakery at 527 Harrison Street. 

MacKenzie tells the story. "A customer came in and asked for ..."

READ THE COMPLETE ARTICLE AT SECOND WAVE. Don't miss the story behind Irish baker Maria Brennan at The Victorian Bakery! 

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