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COMFORT FOOD

Her bosses are her bakery customers

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COMFORT FOOD

Jimmy Burgess serves up daily fresh baked goods.

GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin


POSTED January 31, 2013 12:40 a.m.

It is 5:30 a.m. and Ripon’s historic downtown is sound asleep, except for a blinking traffic light and the shop at 115 Main Street.

The windows are steamed over and the morning sky still dark, but there is no mistaking the warmth and aroma pouring out of the ovens and through the front doors.

Welcome to the Burgess Baking Company, an award-winning shop that has serviced Ripon, Manteca and the greater Central Valley for 13 years.

Inside, owner/lead baker Jimmy Burgess is hard at work; has been for about two hours now. With her long brown hair tied in a ponytail and her hands wrapped in gloves, she’s all business.

These breads, pastries, cookies and cakes – the tasty treats that attract customers near and far – don’t bake themselves.

“My bosses are my customers,” she says. “They tell me what I bake, how much I bake and what I sell.”

She wheels around a large island in the main kitchen, pulling and pushing trays in and out of ovens, mixing bread dough and icing her signature fruit-filled scones.

The display case near the register, left barren and empty for two days while the shop was closed, now overflows with goodies. There are stacks of cinnamon rolls, flaky croissants, fresh bagels and more.

Her assistant Amy Regevig, 29, prepares the dining area and sets up the outside tables, and then shuffles off to another wing in the bakery where the cookies, cupcakes, pies and cakes are prepared and kept.

The first customers will be here soon, well before the sun rises.

“I came to her at 22, so anything before this was just a job. This is my career – it’s not a job,” Regevig said. “This is what I love doing. There’s nothing like the holiday rush, seeing people happy and having conversations with customers.”

There is tenacity about Burgess, whose small operation has survived the housing crash in 2007, a move from Manteca to Ripon, a down-sizing and later what she deemed a risky expansion.

She credits her versatility, dedication and strong relationship with her customers for keeping her ovens hot, doors open, and her baked goods in high demand.

On a typical work day, Burgess will open the store at 4 a.m. and begin baking the pastries. Doors open at 6 a.m. She won’t stop baking until 3 p.m. Along the way, she’ll take orders, engage customers, pour coffee and sit down long enough to handle a few wedding consultations.

“There’s always something to do,” she said. “If you think you’re done baking, start cleaning.”

Quite often, Burgess logs 12 hour days, standard operating procedure for a baker with a shop her size.

She closes her doors to the general public on Sundays and Mondays, but uses that time to complete special orders, make deliveries, purchase ingredients and prepare Tuesday’s menu.

“I don’t know if I’m stubborn or stupid. You have to be dedicated. You have to be responsible to the clientele you’ve built up if you want to keep it,” Burgess said.

“The trade is losing its spark. It’s very labor intensive and demands a lot of you. Nowadays, most people want to go to college and a get a job sitting behind a desk – and I don’t blame them.”

“I saw my opportunity and I took it.”

Like her breads, Burgess’ career has needed time to ferment. She took an around-the-way route to her current location and lot in life, filling various roles in the industry.

She worked for an all-natural baker in Colorado from 1980-1984, before returning to her hometown of Modesto to work in the bakery at the now-defunct Richland Market.

Burgess later worked for Raley’s for more than a decade and then went into sales and distribution of ingredients, which gave her a real-time glimpse at the health of the industry.

It was then that Burgess, who raised three children in her kitchen and has solicited the help of her husband Bill, mother Patricia Easley and late father James Easley, decided to step out on her own.

Burgess Baking Company originally opened in Manteca’s Cardoza West shopping center in 2000.

“It was tough in Manteca in ’07, when everyone was losing their homes. I had to move. I had to downsize if I wanted to stay in business,” said Burgess, a four-time Best of Manteca award-winner and The Bulletin’s Reader’s Choice recipient last year.

“Specialty cakes really carried us through. I was committed to this.”

She moved the bakery to its current downtown Ripon location, and in August of 2010, purchased and renovated the space next door.

Now her bakery features two main rooms each with their own display cases, two kitchen areas separated by French doors and a walk-in refrigerator at the back of the property.

Burgess is all in.

“It’s not for everybody. You have to have that frame of mind that you don’t just go home at 4 o’clock. You go home when you’re finished,” she said.

“Sometimes, you’ll have customers who come right when you’re ready to close and you know what, that’s OK.”

On this particular day, Judy Groen is the first through the doors, arriving a few minutes before 6 a.m.

Right on cue.

Groen and a few of her friends meet regularly at Burgess Baking Company to “talk about world problems and try to solve them, and then we go home.”

From her post in the kitchen, Burgess catches up with her “bosses.”

She is happy and hopeful when one lady says she’s reached her last cancer treatment, and offers the lady’s sister – visiting from Washington -- her super-secret scone recipe because she can’t find any as tasty while she’s away.

Burgess smiles at the sight of a husband and wife sitting in her window seat – “they come here every morning after their walk,” she says – and later greets fellow Main Street business owner George “The Barber.”

 “I’ve gotten to know them over a period of time,” Burgess said of her clientele. “I’ve seen people go through different things. Good things, like the births of their grandchildren or their kids getting married. I’ve seen tough things, too, because that’s life.”

And each morning, while the town sleeps, she bakes treats to celebrate and console them.

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