Hanging up Her Apron
planning retirement, owner wants to sell Eau Claire’s legendary Sue’s Bake Shop
After nearly 20 years of owning Sue’s Deluxe Bake Shop – and a lifetime in the baking industry – Sue Ranney is planning to off the apron and pass it along to someone else.
Ranney, who worked in her parents’ bakery downtown Eau Claire in the 1960s, is still using the old-fashioned family recipes her mom and dad used to make angel food cakes, Danishes, and other delectable treats.
“I haven’t changed anything, that’s why we’re unique,” Ranney said. “I learned from my dad, I never went to baking school.”
And though she has plans for her life to change after retiring, she hopes her bakery continues its legacy.
We sat down with – er, stood across from – Ranney at the counter where her magic happens, in the back of her tiny, treasured bakery, 1319 Birch St.
What has been the most rewarding part about this whole experience?
Sue Ranney: The customers. Some have been coming in since my parents owned it. You get to know their life and they know mine, and you’re more like a family. It’s real rewarding to me that I know this was my family, this is my life. It’s not a job to me because this is what I grew up with.
“At Christmastime when it gets real busy you call in your friends (and) relatives and you become a happy family. Well I don’t know about happy, but we’re all working together. It’s the people that really make the business.” – Sue Ranney, owner, Sue’s Bake Shop
At Christmastime when it gets real busy you call in your friends (and) relatives and you become a happy family. Well I don’t know about happy, but we’re all working together. It’s the people that really make the business.
When people come home who live far away, it’s requested the kids have to get certain items from here because they grew up on it. It’s a treat for them when they come home from wherever they live now. That history of it is also neat.
Did you ever expect to be in this business this long?
No. When I was young, after school I had to work for my parents before I could do anything else. Had to work Saturdays. I said when I graduate I am going to be gone, I don’t want anything to do with the bakery. … Then I found out how much it was in my blood, how much I loved it and I had to do it again.
What are some of your favorite memories here?
My parents have passed now, but I would say my mom coming down to help me when I took over. My aunt Shirley worked for me for many years.
A big part of it is knowing what I make, what I do makes a difference to my customers, how much they love me.
Do you have plans for retirement?
My husband owns his own business here, Ranney’s Auto. He goes to different states, buys cars there. He wants me to be able to go with him. And most of my friends are retiring now, so I want to go visit friends and travel. The senior center has some events early in the morning that I never can go to, so I’d get into some of those things. I would not worry about finding things to do.
Will you continue baking?
The truth is, I don’t bake at home. I never have, ever. This is a job, and I enjoy my job, I love it, but when I get home I don’t want to think about it.
What will happen to Sue’s Bake Shop?
When somebody does buy it, I will train them into learning my recipes, because that’s really what this place is, it’s the old recipes. If you come in and make the same thing everybody else does, it’s not going to be Sue’s Bake Shop anymore.
I have no time slot. I’d imagine through the holidays someone will want me to stay.
One of the hardest things is going to be teaching people what I know because all the recipes are in my head. I have them written down, but just how to do things like knowing when the buns are ready, when to put them in and take them out. All those little things I know just because I’ve done it for so many years. You’ve got to go by the feel of it, it’s kind of an art.
What do you hope for the future of the bakery?
I hope so much it continues. My boys were not interested in it … and I really want to have another generation take over. There’s hardly anybody out there that knows the old way to bake things without using everything pre-made.
Things have changed since it began in the 1940s. I have changed things and industry has changed, but the recipes are still the same.
It totally depends upon the new owner, but my employees are open to staying. And they know how to run things, how things connect, so I’m hoping they do. They’ve all been here five years or longer, with exception of Shelley.
Will it be difficult to stay away?
I’m really curious how I’m going to react to having somebody else take it over – if I’m going to want to see how they’re doing things. … I’ll probably stop in, and I’ll buy my stuff here, too, because it is the best, and hopefully it still will be.
For the time being, Sue’s Bake Shop is still up and running, so check it out at 1319 Birch St., Eau Claire, or call (715) 552-3931.