BANGOR, Maine — Four family generations gathered around a triple-decker retirement cake Saturday to recall the two basic tenets of doing business and to honor one man who has become synonymous with one of Bangor’s best-known family businesses.
About 60 friends, family members and acquaintances — who all had at least one thing in common as loyal customers — gathered inside and outside 199 State St. to attend a public retirement ceremony for Frank Soucy, one of the original founders of Frank’s Bake Shop.
The 84-year-old patriarch with a flair for baking and decorating has decided to go into at least “semiretirement” and give up the baking duties he has happily carried out for the last 65 years the business has been operating.
“My dad was the head baker at UMaine, and my brother worked sorting mail on the railway mail service,” Soucy recalled during a rare quiet moment at the bakery. “I had just graduated from [John Bapst] high school and had a job out at Dow Air Force Base.
“My brother didn’t like his job at all with all the travel, so my dad suggested the three of us get together and start a bakery, and we did with $200 between the three of us.”
With a lot of credit from local suppliers and plenty of work ethic, Frank Sr. and sons Frank Jr. and Joe started selling doughnuts at their first shop on Hancock Street for 48 cents a dozen.
That was in 1945. Two years later, they moved into an old A&P grocery store at the State Street location, where customers now can get everything from doughnuts to cookies, pies to cakes, bread to finger food, sandwiches to casseroles, and even complete dinners.
“When we moved up into this building, we decided we should start doing some catering. We can have a special on chicken pie once a week,” said the Brewer native, who did all of the cake decorating for more than 30 years.
Soucy has taught his secrets to current owners and children Theresa Soucy, Bernadette Gaspar, Joseph Soucy, Richard Soucy and Fleurette Dow. He stresses two basic tenets: Always offer something you would want to buy for yourself, and quality is a top priority.
He also taught them what not to do.
“One morning, Dianne was making doughnuts and the gas-fired box for the doughnuts blew up,” Soucy said with a laugh. “I forgot the gas was on and went to light it, and all my eyebrows and some hair were burned off. I had some third-degree burns.”
Soucy sold his share of the shop to Joe in the 1990s, but has continued to bake. Health issues and decreased stamina have convinced him to pair his retirement with the shop’s 65th anniversary.
“It is a happy and sad day because I’ve worked right up until this year, but I decided maybe I ought to semiretire anyway,” said Soucy, who plans to spend much of his free time fishing and ice fishing with his son-in-law. “I think just not coming to work is what I’ll enjoy, not having to look at a clock, although I automatically wake up at 5 o’clock in the morning. I always do.”
Frank Jr., who now lives on the shore of Phillips Lake in Dedham, has three children: Dianne, Mary Elizabeth and Frank III, who is a Naval Criminal Investigative Science agent in Virginia.
So after all those years baking goodies, what’s the favorite item for his sweet tooth?
“Eclairs, but I had to stop eating them awhile ago or I’d weigh 300 pounds,” Soucy said with a chuckle. “I like the mini ones better. You can shoot them down a lot better.”
For the record, his favorite doughnut is chocolate, but the most popular overall among Frank’s clientele are chocolate sugared, cinnamon and chocolate glazed.