HATBORO >> One might suppose the Sweetest Bakery in America would be in a major U.S. city.
How about the main street of Hatboro?
Lochel’s Bakery at 57 S. York Road was named the 2017 Sweetest Bakery in America Sept. 5, winning by more than 27,000 votes in a contest sponsored by bakery supplier Dawn Foods.
For third-generation owners Robert and Kathleen Lochel, who took over 12½ years ago, that’s pretty sweet.
More than 1,400 bakeries in the United States competed in the inaugural contest, which began in February, with votes coming in through both paper ballot and online, said Kathleen during a break Tuesday in a consultation room lined with exquisitely decorated wedding cakes.
“I never thought we’d win in the beginning,” she said, “but near the end, I saw the leaderboard on the website and thought it could happen.”
Lochel’s took first place with 97,513 votes, a decisive win over second place — a New Jersey bakery that garnered 69,932 votes.
“We worked hard to ask every customer here to vote for us,” Kathleen said, adding the bakery put tables outside some Saturdays to seek support.
“We’re very proud and passionate about it,” she said.
“Dawn Foods, the world’s largest supplier of bakery products, said only about 20,000 votes” were typically cast for their contests, Kathleen said. “There were more than 500,000 votes in this contest, of which one-fifth were for us.”
Kathleen attributed the win to the bakery’s “very loyal customer base,” social media — it has 12,000 Facebook fans — and that “the town really rallied behind us.”
“It was a team effort,” she said.
Top sellers for the bakery are doughnuts, all occasion cakes and pastries, she said, adding, “we do everything,” all from scratch.
Her husband, Rob, and his brother, Jim, do the baking, there are six cake decorators, and of the 22 full-time, part-time and seasonal employees, about a half-dozen are Lochels, Kathleen said. The couple have three children, ages 5, 10 and 13, and the eldest is already starting to work in the bakery, she said.
Lochel’s is also celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. Rob’s grandfather opened the bakery “as far as when we can date back” in 1942 at Second and McKean streets in South Philadelphia, she said. From there, it moved to the Rosemore Shopping center in Warminster, then to Levittown, where it burned down on Labor Day 1995, at which point it moved to its current location, she said.
In Hatboro for 22 years now, the bakery expanded two years ago, and “here’s where we’re staying,” Kathleen said.
While plans were in the works to paint and redecorate the store, “we pushed it up and did it in two days,” after Dawn Foods said they were coming out to do a video, she said.
“Part of the prize is $20,000 in advertising,” Kathleen said.
There will be an article in Bake Magazine and a PR firm was hired to help promote the bakery, she said.
Kathleen was already starting to plan an anniversary party for the customer appreciation event it holds every September, so now it’s a combination anniversary and Sweetest Bakery in America block party scheduled for 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 14, she said.
The Conshohocken Italian bakery, which also sells Lochel’s goods, will supply tomato pies, there will be children’s activities, a doughnut-eating contest, a DJ and other activities, she said. Dawn Foods is helping with the block party and plans to fly in some executives from its Michigan headquarters.
This year, Sept. 28 is the first National Bakery Day, which promotes small, individually owned bakeries, “and I think Dawn Foods was trying to promote it,” Kathleen said. “They said it was the best promotion they’ve ever run.”
The town has also been very supportive and will close off part of York Road for the block party, she said.
“The customers are really excited and looking forward to a party,” she said.
“Facebook is crazy — there are over 1,000 shares” about Lochel’s being named the Sweetest Bakery in America.
“It was a real morale booster for our employees,” Kathleen said. “It’s nice, too, for a small bakery to be promoted. It’s such a feel-good story for us, that a mom and pop could win.
“It’s been a wild ride.”
Lochel’s Bakery is open Tuesday through Friday 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.