Like many in the community, when Colleen Lucas received news of the fire that consumed Kalamazoo’s Sarkozy Bakery during the early hours of Feb. 25 on Facebook, her reaction was one of both surprise and heartbreak.
“When I heard about the fire, I just thought, ‘Oh my gosh, [the bakery] is gone,’” she recalled. “I don’t want it to
be, at all.”
Although the stay-at-home mother of two admitted she’s “not a fundraiser person,” Lucas wanted to help store owner Judy Sarkozy and the community deal with the loss of the beloved bakery.
“I don’t have a space to offer [Sarkozy] to restart her business, I’ve never gotten together a fundraiser,” Lucas said. “I know one thing I could do. I’m pretty good at Facebooking.”
Only one day after the last embers of the fire were extinguished, Lucas created the “Save Sarkozy” Facebook page with the help of her sister, Leah White.
“For me, it was just kind of a natural place to start, because it felt like something I could do, from my living room,” Lucas said.
The page quickly became a hot spot for former Sarkozy customers, receiving over 700 likes and frequent comments and contributions from visitors.
“I expected it to be just my friends and family,” Lucas said. “It made me really, really happy that people felt the same way as I did.”
Founded in 1978 by Sarkozy and her husband Ken, the bakery is considered by many to be an institution of downtown Kalamazoo. However, the fire, which officials suspect was caused by a basement furnace, left only a shell of the building where the shop was located.
The destruction of the bakery also left doubts as to whether Sarkozy would continue selling her renowned baked goods to the community. Although the business had closed at various points throughout its three decades of existence, many believed, including Sarkozy herself, that the fire marked the final chapter of the bakery’s long history.
“To me, [the fire] meant the end,” Lucas said. “I know we had always wondered how this whole thing was going to end anyway. There had been talk of how [Sarkozy] would retire, if someone would buy it, or if she would turn it into a worker’s owned co-op.”
The loss of the long-standing bread and pastry shop was especially painful for Lucas and her family. Her husband, Nathan, worked at the bakery from 2007 to 2010, and the couple remained friends with a handful of bakers who worked at the store until the day of the fire.
“Just like many people who grew up in Kalamazoo, [Sarkozy Bakery] is just one of those staple places that you go to,” Lucas said. “[My parents and I] used to go there every Saturday, when we would go on our shopping trips. It was just a place we were at a lot, we always got a treat there. We liked it.”
Lucas said she was fond of many of the bakery’s products, in particular the shop’s signature oatmeal bread, its most popular item.
“It is fantastic, it puts every bakery in this town’s oatmeal bread to shame,” she said. “I wish I still had a loaf of it in my freezer.”
While Sarkozy’s products drove patrons to the shop’s front door, it was the relationship that many felt with the bakery’s owner that inspired the outpouring of support from the city’s residents since the fire, Lucas said.
“You got to admire someone who has really dedicated themselves to this community, just in this simple way of wanting to provide this fabulous product since the ‘70s,” she added. “She kind of has this air about her, where you want her to succeed.”
Many of the bakery’s former customers displayed their feelings about both Sarkozy and her store on the “Save Sarkozy” page, with visitors sharing their favorite items and memories with each other.
“I worked next door for years and relied heavily on their delicious cookies as afternoon pick-me-ups and their amazing pizza to get me through my pregnancy cravings,” wrote Johanna Madden Gross. “Sorely missed already.”
“I remember the first time I visited and I received the 50 cent tour just for wandering back into the kitchen,” wrote David Hunt. “I had the impression that it was common for perfect strangers to gander at the glowing guts of that monster brick oven and view the intermittent ballet of loafs of all shapes and sizes taking their cosmic tour towards ‘completeness,’ a real moment in an unreal world, and my children enjoyed it just as much.”
Although Lucas intended to use the Facebook page for sharing news and stories about the bakery, it has blossomed into a channel for the community to lend a hand to Sarkozy and the rest of the bakery’s staff. After posting that Sarkozy was in need of pictures of her old equipment for the insurance company, the response was substantial, Lucas said. There has even been discussion of collecting donations for Sarkozy, in hopes that she will be able to purchase a new storefront and equipment.
The support has been so great, in fact, that Sarkozy is considering resurrecting the business in some form or another, meeting with downtown business owners to brainstorm potential solutions, Lucas said.
“I don’t think she’d be having that meeting if weren’t for the fact that Kalamazoo has said, ‘We want you back. We want to help you,’” Lucas said. “I know that she has really been affected by the outpouring of support, and [the Facebook page] is one of the many facets that its come.”
For now, Lucas awaits whatever decision Sarkozy makes regarding the future of the bakery, and will utilize the Facebook page to raise funding or provide support if needed, she said.
“I hope some reincarnation of the bakery comes back, whether its a full blown bakery or something smaller,” Lucas said. “I want [Sarkozy] to be happy, I want the staff to be happy, and I also want a slice of oatmeal toast.”