published Monday, March 29th, 2010

Bakery rises to challenge


by Chris Carroll

TO GET THERE

From I-24 take exit 155 north on Tennessee Highway 28. Travel through Whitwell and before you reach Dunlap, you will see Stone Cave Road. Turn right, then left at the Stone Cave gate. Follow signs to bakery.

DUNLAP, Tenn. -- Tucked away in a small cabin that smells like a hungry person's paradise, James and Heike Clark bake 1,200 loaves of organic bread every week.

"What you're going to get here is the way God made it," Mrs. Clark said. "It's the way it came off the tree, it's the way it came out of the field. Simple."

Locating Clark's Bakery at Stone Cave is not as simple, but these days some bread lovers find the loaves coming to them.

It all started on the side of the road.

Last summer, the Clarks knew the economy was tanking. When many business owners were pulling back, the Clarks hired Dan Miller, a Dunlap retiree who Mrs. Clark said "knows how to sell."

Mr. Miller parked his car next to a highway in Dunlap. Calling himself "Dan the Breadman," he successfully peddled a few dozen loaves of bread every day.

  • photo
    Staff Photo by Angela Lewis/Chattanooga Times Free Press Robert Blaser puts bread on a rack to cool at Stone Cave Bakery in Sequatchie County.

Thinking of expansion, he devised several routes and began selling fresh bread to schoolteachers, bank tellers and other groups of workers across Sequatchie and Tennessee valleys.

Mr. Miller quickly accumulated a coterie of devoted customers in Pikeville, Whitwell, South Pittsburg, Jasper and Dayton.

But he said he was already "collecting a good little pension and Social Security," so he decided to give his routes to people in need.

Bob Blaser and Leroy Dumas both needed a hand up after losing their jobs, so Mr. Miller said he taught them the business. He even thought of nicknames for the two up-and-coming salesmen -- "Baker Bob" and "Doughboy Dumas."

The routes were so successful that the bakery had to add staff, too, Mrs. Clark said. There were five employees last year before the routes started, and now there are 15.

One of them was Mr. Blaser, a former truck driver. He works 30 hours a week inside the bakery and keeps up two daylong delivery routes.

Mr. Blaser says he's grateful to be working "all these nice little towns."

"Meeting different people and different personalities are my favorite parts," he said. "I can stay home and go home every night. And I'm learning something that's useful -- being a baker."

Mr. Miller said he's glad his bakery routes have been so successful.

"I wanted to do my tiny little part in helping the economy and America, especially here in Southeast Tennessee," he said.

Mrs. Clark said each sales route resulted in financial strength when she least expected it.

"We would have probably had to let people go or cut their hours," she said. "It helped us to expand at a time when normally we would have struggled."

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