Ontario Bakery’s final days are rich with emotion – San Bernardino Sun

People are ordering cakes from Ontario Bakery like there’s no tomorrow. And there kind of isn’t, since the shop is closing Saturday to allow its owners to retire. Some people aren’t even celebrating anything.

“Here’s the message on one cake,” owner Chris Fabos tells me Thursday morning, Feb. 24, in the kitchen, holding up an order form. What the customer wants the cake to say: “We’ll Miss You.”

Kathy Fabos, Chris’ wife, brings in a finished cake to show me. It’s got a sad face and the message “It’s the last one!”

These are meta cakes, commenting on nothing but their own existence.

“They’re not having a celebration,” Chris observes, “they just want a cake.”

Other customers are buying cakes to freeze and eat on birthdays later in the year. As Kathy jokes in a Facebook video, “You guys are all stocking up. I assume you all bought new freezers.”

It’s partly my fault. “Since your story went out,” Chris says, “it’s been nonstop.” Then KTLA followed up with its own report.

While Chris mostly confines himself to the kitchen, Kathy is in the front of the shop dealing with customers, taking the brunt of “the joy and the heartache,” as she puts it wryly. When people say farewell, sometimes it’s with tears rolling down their cheeks.

Some make a final purchase of a favorite item. “I thought I’d better get my last carrot cakes,” Patti Townley-Covert says as she scoops up two pink boxes from the counter.

Thursday morning, a customer hands Kathy a card inside a fat envelope, saying there’s a five-page letter inside. Kathy says she’d better wait to read it after work.

A small table has “Share a Memory” cards to fill out. Many people write about years of buying cakes for birthdays or other special occasions and wish the couple well.

Glen and Terri Thompson wrote that they bought their wedding cake there in 1964, their 50th anniversary cake in 2014 and their last purchase on Wednesday.

Ontario Bakery opened in 1962, taking over from Joslin’s Pastry Shop in Ontario Plaza. Some people confuse the bakery with Eader’s or other past shops downtown, but it’s always been on Mountain Avenue, according to city directories.

One early owner was Daniel Ortiz, who worked there several years under Jack Donner before buying the bakery from him in the mid-1960s with his brother-in-law Eugenio Jimenez, both immigrants from the Dominican Republic, says Ortiz’s son by email.

“I look back on those years as valuable preparation for life,” Joseph Ortiz of Redlands recalls. “We learned hard work, perseverance, people skills and money management.”

He adds: “More importantly, we were a part of people’s lives. We made the cakes for birthdays, holidays and weddings.”

Chris bought the bakery from Jesse Enrique, taking over March 1, 1982. Linda Frame had been there five years. At 66, she still works one day a week — and more, lately, now that the shop is closing.

“Forty-five years I’ve been doing this. Wow,” Frame says, sounding surprised when she does the math. She used to joke with Chris that he couldn’t get rid of her if he wanted to, which he didn’t: “If you fire me,” she’d say, “I’ll still come tomorrow.”

Chris Fabos makes eclairs Thursday morning at Ontario Bakery. Community response to his retirement has stunned him. “I didn’t know how I affected people’s lives,” he says. (Photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

The bakery has been in Chris and Kathy’s flour-dusted hands precisely 40 years. “We had some lean years,” says Chris, who wishes some of this outpouring of support had come earlier. And he admits to some second thoughts about leaving, given the influx of customers.

But he’s sold the bakery to Spike’s Cake Shop, a Pomona panaderia, so that’s that.

Chris is leaving on a high note. He’d never thought much about his place in the scheme of things.

“We sell them a cake and send them on their way. I didn’t know how I affected people’s lives,” Chris reflects. “I just thought I was a little baker making cakes.”

The doors will be locked at 5 p.m. Saturday, then will reopen Sunday for a party from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Loyal customers, old friends and past employees are invited.

Then comes retirement. “On March 5,” Chris says, “we leave on a cruise.”

More bakery

Here’s another anecdote from Ontario Bakery. Circa 2000, Chris ran a coupon in the Daily Bulletin offering 15% off. For years afterward, one thrifty customer has continued to redeem that coupon.

How is that possible? The bakery forgot to include an expiration date.

“She had hundreds of them. It only ran one day,” Kathy told me earlier this month, chuckling.

“She must have got copies from everyone she knew,” Chris said, still a bit abashed.

The bakery has always honored the coupon. Marveled Kathy: “She came in last year with one.”

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