Claudia DeMarco and her late husband Bob Stevenson used to be able to look out the window of their bagel and pizza shop on South Airport Road and count the cars that went by.
Traffic patterns and the region's population have changed dramatically since they opened in 1981, but DeMarco’s Grand Traverse Bagel and Bakery is still going strong, baking goods for restaurants and retailers throughout the region.
Today, the bakery supplies at least 100 area shops, groceries, schools and restaurants with freshly-made bagels and bread. The bakery also takes individual orders and delivers to stores of choice for pick up.
DeMarco estimates she and her 12-person staff bake 200 to 500 loaves of bread each day.
“Since we’ve been in business, we’ve probably baked over a million loaves of bread,” she said. “That’s a lot of bread!”
DeMarco and Stevenson moved to northern Michigan in 1978. They didn't, however, bring a background in the bakery business.
“My husband grew up in the city of Detroit (and) when he came back from Vietnam, he wanted to get out of the city,” ” she said.
They bought the Betsie River Campground in 1978. The couple operated the campground for three years, then purchased a Traverse City bagel and pizza shop. That shop, located in Hillside Plaza on South Airport Road, evolved into Grand Traverse Bagel and Bakery. It remained on South Airport for more than 25 years before moving to Munson Avenue in 2008.
The pizza portion of the business was short lived.
“Back then there were a lot of places making pizza, but Traverse City didn’t have a large population,” DeMarco said. “So, we decided to learn to make bread.”
“We saw a need that wasn’t being met,” she said, noting limited availability at the time for freshly-made bread in area restaurants and groceries.
Staff from Detroit Bagel Company taught them how to make authentic New York-style bagels using a water bath method they still follow today. Bread baking was also learned from scratch, beginning with French bread and growing in variety and quantity.
Everything was baked at their retail shop in the early days. As the wholesale side grew larger than the retail end, production was moved to a commercial kitchen at a different site to accommodate increased demand.
Offerings have changed to cater to shifting consumer tastes. Yet, the philosophy and commitment to fresh, quality products have remained steady. Demarco noted their long-time slogan was “every batch from scratch,” which is a practice still followed. The business also keeps a limited ingredient list lacking preservatives or additives.
“We always felt we were baking a high-quality product at a reasonable price,” DeMarco said, noting they focused on volume and serving the local customer base while also keeping up with changes to stay competitive.
“That was a conscious decision and still is,” she said.
Her greatest enjoyment during the past 33 years is her customers and the ability to create something like her bagels and breads and get immediate positive feedback from customers. DeMarco credits her longtime customers with loyalty, support and compliments through the years.
Grand Traverse Bagel and Bakery has always operated as a family-run business. DeMarco’s children, Lauren and Mathew Stevenson, both worked there as teenagers. When Bob Stevenson passed away unexpectedly in 2011, Mathew returned to assist DeMarco in running the business. DeMarco decided in the past two years to close the retail business and focus on the wholesale side.
Although the retail shop is closed, Grand Traverse Bagel and Bakery continues to serve its customers by taking individual orders. The order line is 231-947-0337.