Heinz bakery owner retiring German immigrant ran Westminster store for nearly 24 years

January 15, 1996|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

In 1960, Heinz Luesse told his wife he'd like to go to the United States "for a couple years, for an adventure" before they settled down in his native Germany.

So far, the adventure has lasted 36 years.

In the latest chapter, Mr. Luesse is retiring from the bakery he has owned for nearly 24 years at the corner of West Main and John streets in downtown Westminster. He is selling the Hummel figures and Steinbach miniature ornaments and beer steins that have been a sideline. The sign, "Heinz Cake & Gift Haus" will come down.

The new owners plan to continue baking pastries, doughnuts, breads, cookies and cakes in the renamed "Main Street Bake Shoppe." They also plan to bake rolls and make up party trays of Danish and French pastries and cookies. They will sell greeting cards, helium balloons and gourmet coffees.

"We're going to keep some of his products that customers are familiar with," said Deborah Rich, one of the four new owners. She has been a professional baker for 14 years. Her husband Warren Rich, a master baker, has 26 years' experience. Their partners, Tracy and Rock Merrill, are not bakers, but Mrs. Merrill will staff the sales counter.

Like Mr. Luesse a quarter-century before them, Mr. and Mrs. Merrill had worked for bakeries in the Baltimore area. But they wanted to own their own business.

Mr. Luesse, 61, began his career as an apprentice baker in Hamburg, Germany, in 1950. He earned the rank of master pastry chef in 1959. In the European system, only a master baker is allowed to train students. Mr. Luesse worked for Hamburg American Steamship Co., baking his way around the world on passenger liners.

When Mr. Luesse and his wife, Elvira, came to Baltimore, he recalled, "She had one suitcase, and I had a suitcase."

He took a job at the Southern Hotel at Light and Redwood streets, then was hired by Western Maryland College and spent 18 months working in Westminster. He moved on to other jobs around Baltimore, but says he always liked country towns. "They made me feel like home."

When he learned that the building at the corner of West Main and John streets was available, he rented it. He opened the bakery in 1972 with seven employees and a wholesale trade in addition to the retail business. The bakery's wedding cakes graced the tables of a generation of local brides. Heinz's bakery also became well-known for its cinnamon sticks, Christmas stollen and Black Forest cakes.

Seven years ago, Mr. Luesse quit the wholesale business and pared the staff to his family. He and his son, also named Heinz, did the baking. The elder Mr. Luesse's wife and daughter Yvonne England waited on customers. Another son, Mark, an engineer, helped occasionally on Saturdays.

"Those were the best years of my life, working with just my family. But all good things have to come to an end," Mr. Luesse said.

The younger Mr. Luesse started Firelight Sport and Adventure, a West Main Street sports equipment and paint ball store, in September 1994. Mrs. England said that for her to take over the business, "is not possible. You need [more] people to run this business."

The Main Street Bake Shoppe will be open longer hours than Mr. Luesse's bakery, until 7 p.m. two days a week and on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. "I don't know whether that's crazy or stupid," Mrs. Rich said. "We haven't figured that out yet."

She said she and her husband are used to long hours. "We met in a bakery -- we've always worked together," she said.

Mr. Luesse plans to sleep later in his retirement and to devote more time to his hobby of raising and breeding pigeons. He will enter birds in national competition in Salt Lake City this year.

"I tell people, if anyone wants to see me, they can come in my pigeon loft," he said.

Mr. Luesse said if he had it to do over, he would do it the same way. "I met the nicest people in this town," he said. "That made my hours a little shorter and the pain in my legs a little better."

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