Glamorgan Bakery's famous cheese bun recipe unchanged for nearly 40 years
'People always ask our secret — the secret is not cutting corners,' says Jannette Nauta
Glamorgan Bakery specializes in nostalgia, packaged up with butter, sugar and cheese.
The place always seems to be busy, bustling with people choosing loaves of freshly baked bread stacked on metal racks, kids pointing through the glass of the low display cases at chocolate-dipped cookies and Texas-sized doughnuts.
On a recent visit, a silver-haired man came in to pick up his cake, which was passed over the counter in a familiar white bakery box, printed with the iconic cartoon baker-with-cake logo, taped on the sides.
"I have to pick up my own birthday cake," he replies in a Dutch accent to owner Jannette Nauta when she says hello. "It's on Saturday."
He's one of many regulars who have been visiting the bakery for as long as they've been open — 40 years next year.
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Tucked in between a bowling alley and butcher shop in a strip mall on the corner of 37th Street and 33rd Avenue, Glamorgan bakery has been in the same place, owned by the same family baking mostly the same loaves, buns, cakes and pastries since 1977.
There are knickknacks in the front window and the rotating display beside the front door shows off traditional birthday cakes decorated with made-from-scratch buttercream icing.
Parker House rolls are made daily, and dipped in butter. "Don always gets offended that he has to say 'real butter'," Nauta says of her husband, "because butter should be butter. Same with whipped cream. It's either real whipped cream or it's not."
Their prices seem to be stuck in a time warp of the best possible kind — you'll find freshly baked loaves priced at $2.45 and $3.65, plate-sized doughnuts for $1.80, fancy decorated cupcakes for $2 and muffins for 90 cents.
All homemade and hand-decorated, Nauta credits the lack of high-tech machinery for helping keep their prices low.
"Some people joke that they could put our cookies into their Tupperware containers at home and take credit for making them," Nauta laughs.
Their offerings have stayed much the same, with a few tweaks to accommodate food trends and the whims of a more nutritionally savvy city. "It used to be everyone wanted cracked wheat bread," Nauta says, "and for a while everyone wanted flax.
But in general, nowadays people are just looking for something fresh, that tastes good. Something they can make a good sandwich with."
Their Dutch backgrounds — Don immigrated from the Netherlands in 1973 and Nauta grew up with Dutch parents in neighbouring Glendale, and went to school just down the street — are reflected in the speculaas, sausage rolls, stroopwafel and apple strudel they have on offer, but Glamorgan cheese buns are legendary, shipped around the world to those who have moved away but crave a taste of home.
"We haven't changed our staple — the cheese buns," Nauta says of their best-selling item, which they've been making since the beginning.
"There was a pan sitting in the back. It was sort of a loaf pan. Don fiddled around with it with [then co-owner] Rudy, wondering what they could do with it, and came up with a cheese bun made with lots of real aged cheddar."
It was a hit, and their formula hasn't changed. Plenty of bakeries have attempted their own versions since, but most Calgarians agree — there's nothing like the extra-cheesy buns from Glamorgan.
"In the early eighties, it was the huge thing," Nauta says. "They had people lined up out the door."
On an average day, they'll make [and sell] 150 to 175 dozen cheese buns, compared to 75 to 100 dozen of all other buns combined — more at Christmas and holidays that bring more people in.
But their busiest times are during summer and Stampede, when people are visiting and come back to visit the bakery of their childhood, or when parents stock up on cheese buns and swirled raspberry loaves to bring to their kids when they go visit.
"It's all those times when people are visiting, or they're leaving and stocking up to bring home," Nauta says.
One regular customer fills her suitcase when she goes to see her son in China, and Nauta and Don ship buttery Parker House Rolls to another customer who has been serving them at her holiday meals for decades and doesn't want to break tradition even though she's moved away.
"People have such a sense of nostalgia," Nauta says. "We have parents who come in and say, 'I was one of the A.E. Cross kids who came here for lunch every day from school, and now I want to bring my kids here and show them what I experienced."
For the Nautas and their three children, who have moved on to careers that don't involve carbohydrates but come back to help during the busy holiday seasons, it's about connecting with their community in a way that makes people feel at home.
"We make a simple, everyday product for families to use every day," Nauta says. "People always ask our secret — the secret is not cutting corners."