October 13, 2011
Larry Duncan and his family were in town over the weekend, visiting his mother and stepfather. Larry owns Cafe Bonheur, a coffee house/bakery chain with locations in Seattle, Portland, and throughout California. Rumor has it that he is about to open a new cafe in Leawood or on the Plaza in Kansas City.
The Prairie View Extension Club met on Monday at the home of Dorothy Norman. The Club met a week early because several members will be in Manhattan next week for a the K-State Extension Annual Conference. A lesson on ways to use pumpkins was given by Lorene Hanson. Area gardeners have indicated that they are going to have a good crop this year, so the Club members are getting ready for pie season.
George Finley will hold a wine tasting at Finley Ridge on Saturday. Everyone is invited, but reservations are requested.
Gwen Burton has re-opened her antique store after being closed for a month. She reports that the water-damage from the broken pipe in the apartment upstairs was less severe than she first feared. The Main Street/PRIDE committee will host a ribbon-cutting for a “Grand Re-Opening” next Monday.
Lori Mendenhall was contacted by Gerhardt Ricks from Santa Fe who was in town the week-end of her garage sale. He purchased a small painting that Lori picked up at a flea-market in White Cloud a few years before; she put it in the garage sale because she didn’t have a place for it anymore. The painting has turned out to be a minor work by Marvin Cone, a contemporary of Grant Wood, worth about $2,000. Mr. Ricks said that he felt obliged to let Lori know and that he would be sending her check for half the value of the painting. Lori says she is going to be going to White Cloud more often.
Sally Ryan wants everyone to know that she has all of her fall flowers and decorations on sale at the Garden Center. The mums and asters are particularly hardy this year.
The Planning and Zoning committee met on Tuesday and reviewed the design guidelines for downtown businesses. Sally Oswald and Sally Henning, from the Kansas Main Street Program, discussed the guidelines and answered questions. There will be a public hearing on the guidelines at the November Town Council meeting. The Planning and Zoning committee is recommending that the guidelines be adopted, so it is expected that the Council will accept their recommendation.
Walnut Shade is still buzzing about the production of As You Like It put on by the Aeolian Acting Company. Instead of the Forest of Arden, we got Wisteria Lane as the setting and Susan, Lynette, Bree, and Gabrielle as Rosalind, Celia, Phebe and Audrey. Shakespeare must be laughing hysterically somewhere.
Well, after taking the summer off, Jason Brady is at it again. Dr. Oswald removed beans from each of Jason’s ears after his teacher said he wasn’t paying attention in class (Jason, not Dr. Oswald; as far as we know, Dr. Oswald always pays attention in class).
And if you have been paying attention, you know that…
Until next week, I remain
Your Faithful Correspondent
If business acumen is one measure of genius, Larry Duncan ranks right up there with Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, George Soros, and Jeff Bezos. Those who knew him when he was growing up in Walnut Shade probably wouldn’t have guessed that he would one day be called the “Baron of Baguettes” by the Seattle Times, but Larry recognized early on that an upscale bakery and coffee house had a future in the United States. Becoming the “Baron” took more time.
A little history:
Every morning on our way to school, Ron and I would stop by Larry’s house and pick him up. I say “pick him up” even though this was during grade school and we only “picked him up” on our bikes (or in our galoshes during those fabled snowy winters when the temperature was 40 below zero, the drifts were at least six feet high and we walked five miles to school, up hill both ways). I should also clarify that Larry’s house was actually an apartment over his parent’s donut shop. In the early 1950’s, Larry’s dad, Gary started making donuts and other pastries and called his business Duncan’s Donuts. Gary learned his trade at the end of the Second World War. He had been drafted in early 1945, trained as a U.S. Army cook and sent to the European front. When the war ended and his enlistment was up, he decided to stay in Paris, having fallen in love with a French girl whose father was a baker. Gary learned all about making baguette moulee, couronne, ficelle, pain de compagne and pain aux noix. Unfortunately, his love affair didn’t last but he returned to America with extraordinary baking skills and dreams of opening his own bakery.
With a small loan from his grandmother, Gary started his business in Walnut Shade and soon people were driving from as far away a Topeka to get his hot, fresh bread every morning. People loved his bread, but it turned out that Gary’s donuts seemed to really bring in the customers. As word of his pastry-prowess spread, someone in the Dunkin’ Donuts milieu got word of it and decided that “Duncan’s Donuts” was a little too similar to “Dunkin’ Donuts” and sent Gary a cease and desist order. Now at this time in the history of the Republic, Dunkin’ Donuts was little more than a fledgling operation itself, with fewer than fifty stores scattered throughout the northeast and mid-Atlantic region. But it already had a corporate presence, meaning attorneys who were hired to defend its trademark, and Gary had… well, Gary had Gary. After a brief chat with Frank Green, the local attorney (and Marshall Green’s father, Marshall being, of course, Ron’s, Larry’s and my best friend), Gary decided that changing the name of his enterprise would be the prudent thing to do. Thus was born “Sunrise Donuts,” which to Frank’s best guess was not already a corporation somewhere with suits looking after it.
While Ron and Marshall and I liked Larry just for Larry, there was a perk being his friend: just about every morning, he would sneak a bag of donut holes out of the shop, which we would devour on the way to school. These days, if we were doing that, we’d all weigh five hundred pounds, but boys in the fifth grade are generally perpetual-motion machines and a bag of donut holes has little effect on their constitutions. The only down side of being friends with Larry was that he always smelled like donuts. Now, one might think that would be a nice odor to have, but as people in Hershey, Pennsylvania can attest, after a while the smell of chocolate just gets to be too much. And so it is with the smell of twists and long johns and apple fritters. The only time it was really a problem was when we were all in our classroom at school. For some reason, the smell of donuts can permeate a room like nothing else; even the normal body odors of twelve-year olds can’t compete with cooking oil and sugar. Fortunately, our class seating was always arranged alphabetically, so Ron, Marshall and I were a couple of rows behind Larry, and we didn’t get the full effect. I always felt sorry for Sarah Davis and Randy Duffy who had to sit on either side of Larry throughout the school year and experience the pungent joys of his father’s profession.
Larry’s dad passed away during our senior year in high school. Many people assumed that Larry would take over the business, which he had been helping run since he was thirteen, but the day after graduation, he drove to Topeka to the Armed Forces Recruiting Station and joined the Navy. Having no interest at that time in going to college, he knew that he would be drafted in short order and decided to embrace the inevitable. He was shipped to the naval base on Whidbey Island, Washington and, ironically, spent his entire enlistment on dry land as a supply clerk. When his duty was up, he decided to stay in the area and soon became friends with Jerry Baldwin, an English teacher who had opened a small shop in the Pike Place Market in Seattle selling coffee beans and brewing equipment. Larry eventually went to work for Jerry and his partners, Gordon Bowker and Zev Siegel and helped them expand the company they called Starbucks to four stores in 1980. When Bowker and Siegel left the company, Larry was able to purchase a small share which he subsequently sold to Howard Schultz in 1987 for enough to open his own combination coffee house and bakery, putting to use all he had learned in his father’s shop back here in Walnut Shade. By 1995, he had three locations in Seattle and was looking at expanding to Portland when he received a call, incredibly, from Clint Eastwood who had been visiting family in Seattle and stopped by Cafe Bonheur one morning for a pastry and latte. Eastwood, always one to recognize a good thing when he saw (or tasted) it suggested that Larry consider opening a store in Carmel, California, where he, Clint, had been mayor and was still on the local planning board. Eastwood became a silent partner in the Carmel location and helped to open doors for Larry in Palm Springs and Sausalito, where Cafe Bonheurs are now popular early morning spots for the locals.
In addition to the cafes, Larry also own a coffee roaster in San Francisco, a coffee plantation in Costa Rica and farms in Colorado and western Kansas that supply a good portion of the wheat used in his pastries. Not bad for a kid that smelled like crullers for the first eighteen years of his life.
“What’s your next big venture?” I asked Larry over a cinnamon roll at Shirley’s.
“I’ve been talking to Michael Jordan about investing in string of bakeries in Illinois that will be called the Chicago Boules. What do you think?”
If he’s serious, I think it would be a slam dunk.