By Ryan Flynn
It’s 2 a.m. in Cambridge, and as most of the town sleeps, the first baker arrives at Kennedy’s Bakery to start his work. He starts by turning on all the lights and machinery, then mixes the glazes, mixes the doughnut batter and loads the bread dough in a proofing oven to rise. By 2:30 a.m. the first batch of doughnuts are slid into the display case, rolled in sugar and ready for sale. As the sun rises, Wheeling Avenue’s air smells of fried dough and warm bread while bakers continue to mix, bake, dip and frost, churning out the shop’s countless confections. At 6 a.m., Kennedy’s Bakery opens for business.
This scene, with only minor alterations, plays out six days a week, all year. But for siblings and co-owners Bobby and Patty Kennedy, maintaining this consistent schedule is just part of the job.
“We grew up in the business,” Bobby says. “Dad probably had us up here pushing brooms when we were 5 or 6 years old. He wasn’t one to just let somebody sit around. He was teaching work ethic back then.”
The Kennedy’s inherited the shop from their father in 1993, who, in turn, inherited it from his father who started it in 1925. Through almost a century, the passed-down work ethic of Kennedy’s Bakery owners has contributed to its legacy as a staple of Guernsey County. But the shop’s customers know no boundaries, as the company ships its sweet goods all over the U.S and overseas. The shop’s Facebook page has comments from supporters in places such as Germany, Kuwait, Texas, Iraq, and Florida.
“It just makes you feel good, the [social media] following,” Bobby says. “On my worst day I just need to open that up and look at all the good comments. It makes you happy.”
In all those years of working in a small town, in a landmark shop such as Kennedy’s Bakery, they’ve gotten to know a lot of people. Patty is recognized all over town, often seen delivering doughnuts to the police, fire and road departments on a snowy day to thank them for their work. Bobby says his 14-year-old daughter is always amazed when they are out to eat at a restaurant and he runs into someone he knows. Even the late Cambridge-born John Glenn, former astronaut and U.S. senator, once came into the shop to personally thank Bobby for a package of treats he sent.
“When they walk through that door, everybody’s got a story,” Bobby says. “It’s amazing the following we have.”
The shop specializes in cakes, but its Chinese tea cookies are notable, says Patty. They’re shortbread-like cookies, just over an inch in diameter and topped with thumbprints of fluorescent icing. Patty says they can’t be found anywhere else.
“They [customers] find other thumbprint cookies, but they’re just not the same,” she says.
Another big seller is devil dogs, sandwiches of soft cake baked in the shape of hot dog buns, with white frosting in the middle and chocolate frosting on top. Think of it as a whoopie pie in log form. All of Kennedy’s recipes are legacy originals.
“Been around since I’ve been around,” Bobby says. “I figure Dad, my father and grandfather came up with them back in the day.”
The shop’s good reputation is partly due to the Kennedys’ community service. The shop frequently donates bread and cakes to charity events, fundraisers and benefits.
“There’s a lot of people with a lot of troubles,” Bobby says. “Where are they going to come first? They’re going to come to a bakery.”
Rest assured, Bobby is ready for them with some small town chit chat and a bag of baked delights.
“Putting smiles on people’s faces. That’s the most gratifying,” Bobby says.
This year, Patty is celebrating her 50th year at the bakery. Others in the shop have worked there for 14, 30 or even 40 years. This consistency is as comforting as the smell of homemade cookies, quite literally.