OGDEN — It’s Christmas for the bakery business.
Which works out nicely, because it also happens to be Christmas for everyone else.
“We do most of our year’s business between now and Christmas,” Topper Bakery owner Dave DeRyke told the Standard-Examiner in early November. “We do a lot of seasonal baking now — a lot of Dutch traditional baking.”
For example, DeRyke says that for the holidays Topper Bakery makes a lot of spekulatius, which he describes as a Dutch Christmas cookie that Sinterklaas — a variant of Saint Nicholas — gives out to the good children.
“We make them in all different sizes, and I haven’t found anybody yet who doesn’t like them,” DeRyke said.
Of course, Topper also makes pfeffernusse, a cookie that Sinterklaas’ helper, Zwarte Piet, puts in the wooden shoes of naughty children in Holland.
“It’s a cookie that’s just like the naughty kids,” DeRyke said. “Sweet on the outside — sugar-coated — but inside they’re hot and spicy, and kids think they’re nasty.”
DeRyke said pfeffernusse is made with pepper, cloves and “all this hot, spicy stuff, so when kids bite into it they go ‘Ewwww!’”
Also for the holidays, Topper Bakery makes a pastry called botterletter, which has an almond filling on the inside and a buttery, flaky crust on the outside.
“They’re really good; I love those,” DeRyke said.
Each holiday season, the extended DeRyke family gathers at the bakery to make four or five batches of botterletter.
“We start at 10 or 11 in the morning, and finish up at 9 or 10 at night,” he said. “In Holland, the tradition is that the boy will give the girl one of these shaped in the initial of her first name, and the girl gives the boy one with his initial."
Another holiday tradition at Topper is making marzipan, along with assorted pies — including mincemeat.
“Not many bakeries do mincemeat pies anymore,” DeRyke said. “But you name it for Christmas, and we make it.”
A family history of baking
In unpublished interviews with the Standard-Examiner in 2016, DeRyke and his son, Lance DeRyke, talked about both the history and the future of Topper Bakery.
The well-known bakery has been a popular fixture in central Ogden for more than 75 years. DeRyke's father, Harry M. DeRyke, opened the small bakery at 2516 Monroe Blvd. way back in 1939. It remains at that location to this day.
But Dave DeRyke’s baking heritage goes back even farther than that. His grandfather, a baker in Holland, was converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by eventual apostle LeGrand Richards.
“My grandfather had been told he couldn’t have kids — they’d been trying for years,” DeRyke says. “But LeGrand Richards promised him, ‘Come to America, and you’ll have kids.’ ”
The youngest of seven children, DeRyke is proof of the fulfillment of that promise. His grandfather taught the art of baking to his son, Harry, who in turn taught it to Dave.
“Dad went to school back east to learn how to bake cakes,” DeRyke says. “Pretty soon they asked him to teach there. He said, ‘If you can’t teach me anything else, I’m outta here.’ ”
Dave DeRyke’s father worked as a baker in Zion National Park for a time, at one point baking a cake for child actress Shirley Temple. He started a bakery in Smithfield, but it failed, leaving him $10,000 in debt. Undeterred, he decided to try his hand in Ogden, talking the owner of the building where the bakery now sits into taking a chance on him.
“Dad liked the location,” DeRyke said. “This was a really nice neighborhood at the time. Really nice.”
The woman who rented him the building asked, “What makes you think you can make it, when three other bakeries didn’t last three months here?”
His father’s response: “Because I have to. I have a family to feed.”
Once he had a location, DeRyke’s father then “borrowed” an oven from a bakery across town that had gone out of business, promising the owner to pay for it when he could afford it.
“That’s the way he got a lot of his equipment — he’d borrow it, then pay for it later,” DeRyke says.
The first day Topper Bakery was open, DeRyke’s father had a total of 13 cents to make change for customers.
“He robbed the kids’ piggy banks to make change,” DeRyke says. “If somebody had paid with a dollar, he wouldn’t have been able to give them change.”
But the business succeeded, right from Day One.
“The first day he did $3 in business,” DeRyke says. “The next day he did $6, and the next day $12. He went on to making $50 to $60 a day — and more sometimes.”
Dave DeRyke was born in 1951 — the same year his father finally bought the building, remodeled it and brought in an oven, freezer and refrigerator that are still in use today. Indeed, the inside of Topper Bakery is like a museum of old-timey baking equipment.
And DeRyke figures he was all but destined to follow in his father’s footsteps.
“My earliest memories as a little kid, after they were done mixing for the day, my parents would take my blanket and throw it in the mixing bowl, and I’d sit in there. That was my playpen.”
Later, after he’d taken over the family business and was a young father, DeRyke and his wife, Valeen, continued the tradition.
“Guess what?” DeRyke says. “After I got married, we adopted a son at three days old. And we did the same thing — put him in the mixing bowl.”
That recipe seems to have worked. After trying various other jobs for a time, including attending the police academy (Cue cop/doughnut jokes here) that now 30-something son, Lance DeRyke, is in the process of taking over the business from his father.
Lance says his father has been talking about retirement for more than a decade now. The younger DeRyke has no intention of changing a winning formula.
“I’d pretty much want to keep most of it old school, although there will be some things to change,” Lance said. “Probably we’ll need some new equipment here and there.”
Lance is not only a baker, but also a mechanic. He has to be, what with all the old equipment still in use at Topper.
“I had to learn at a young age how to repair it all,” he said.
Lance’s earliest memories of the family business was pushing himself around the bakery in a mop bucket. He was 6 years old when he started “helping out daddy” around the bakery.
While Lance DeRyke admits that being a baker is a pretty good gig, it does have its drawbacks. For example, you know that heavenly, fresh-baked bread smell you encounter anytime you're near a bakery?
“It just smells like work to me,” Lance said.