Generations of families have walked through the same door, looked through the same glass counter and been faced with the same tough decision.
Inside the Orland Park Bakery, after breathing in the aromas, a choice remains from a rainbow of colored treats. Cupcakes filled with butter cream, apple fritters, long johns, sweet rolls, pastries, cakes and seasonal indulgences neatly fill the cases. Customers show their indecision as they idly scan the choices.
But giving into a sugar urge is only one reason people come to Orland Park Bakery. Bakery staff Dan Major is always fascinated when a customer tells him how her mother brought her to the bakery, and her grandmother brought her mother. The bakery has been a part of many similar stories for over 40 years.
"One customer was in line and kind of had a blank stare,” Major said. “He said, 'It's amazing that my grandfather brought me here when I was a child to get long johns.' Hearing stories like that from customers is always so special."
Kathleen and Tom Major, Dan’s mother and brother, have owned the bakery for only the past eight years, but the family’s personal history with the location goes back almost to its origin. Several family members worked at the bakery as teenagers, enjoying the delicacies then as they do now. Kathleen Major remembers when the bakery was originally a part of Mr. Ed’s grocery store, in the space now taken by Randy’s Market. That was up until the 1980’s when John Guba bought the bakery and moved it next door, in the location Orland Park Bakery still resides today. Aside from the ownership, little has changed in the bakery.
But a change is coming now. The bakery will soon have to move away from the Orland Plaza for the first time in its 40-plus year existence. And the hope among both owners and patrons is the familiarity and the reputation will move with it.
Men more than women appear to sample the treat of the day that greets customers at the bakery’s entrance. Last week, a Danish roll cut into little squares was the pick, placed inside a thin aluminum platter next to a coffee machine. The sample is free but the coffee costs 40 cents.
The sample is one of many routines that became familiar over 40 years – familiar sounds, familiar smells and familiar customers.
Everyday consistencies are normally a business owner’s dream come true, but with the Main Street Triangle project moving further ahead, the routines of customers is a reason for caution.
“It’s scary,” said Dan Major. “Generations of customers have been coming to this same location. So even if we are only a few blocks away it will still be different.”
The family understands that progress is a part of life and essentially there’s nothing they can do about the move. They plan to remain in Orland Park and continue on. The family is determined to look at the project as a positive.
“There’s no sense in making a problem about it because it’s going to happen anyway,” Kathleen Major said. “It’s just so sad because this is Orland. This is the community.”
That community and loyalty of customers is why the Majors didn’t change anything when they took over as owners. The recipes are the same. The products are the same. They still employ all of the same bakers. The Atomic Cake is still a multi-tiered crusher of bananas, custard, whipped cream, strawberries and chocolate.
Rather than change the staples, the Majors simply added new items to the menu such as cupcakes. Lately they are baking buns laden with bacon and onions with outdoor grilling in mind.
By 2 p.m. the lunch crowd subsided to a steady stream of customers that trickle in. A child bolted to the clear glass counter after walking in, smacking his little hand flat against the glass and took off running. In seconds flat he was at the end of the counter. Then he quickly turned and dashed right back, never taking his eyes off of the endless possibilities. Wherever his hand stops is the winner. This time, the yellow cookie was his prize.
His mother instinctively grabbed a number from the red machine posted on the wall next to the main door. She knows the drill. She lets him have his fun.
Joliet resident Stacey, who did not want to give her last name, has been coming to Orland bakery for 15 years.
“I love their cookies and cakes,” she said. “I’ve gotten several baptism and birthday cakes from here. You can’t beat the quality.”
Homer Glen resident Kathy Hines has been coming to Orland Bakery since she tasted her aunt’s wedding cake over 40 years ago. She was a flower girl in the wedding and still vividly remembers a water fountain on top of the cake.
“Even though I moved from Orland, I still come here,” Hines said.
And like many others, Hines vows to follow the bakery wherever it goes.