Frank X. Resch, the fifth generation of his family to run the bakery, calls the coronavirus pandemic the biggest challenge he's faced since he took over the business after his father's death in 2010.
Even more than usual, Resch’s Bakery is a study in the fine art of balancing change and tradition. Customers still pass underneath its familiar neon sign when they enter the East Side landmark—but now they also pass by new window placards about social distancing, online ordering and racial justice. Employees still prepare jelly rolls, birthday cakes, apple fritters and other baked goodies in the same meticulous German way—but now they do it while wearing masks and spaced 6 feet apart.
Frank X. Resch, the fifth generation of his family to run the bakery, calls the coronavirus pandemic the biggest challenge he’s faced since he took over the business after his father’s death in 2010. Yet Resch is confident he can make it through this crisis. After all, his bakery has survived two world wars, the Great Depression, urban flight, changing culinary tastes and even a previous global health catastrophe. The deadly influenza pandemic of 1918 occurred six years after two German immigrants, Frank A. Resch and his nephew Wilhelm Resch (Frank X. Resch’s great-grandfather), opened the first Resch’s on the South Side of Columbus. In 1960, Frank X. Resch’s father, Frank J. Resch, opened the current bakery at 4061 E. Livingston Ave., about 4 and a half miles east of the much smaller original location, which closed in the early 1990s.
Family lore doesn’t include anything on how the bakery overcame that earlier devastating outbreak. But Frank X. Resch does have a theory on what’s responsible for his business’ remarkable longevity: It’s become a family tradition to many of its customers. “They were brought here by their parents or their grandparents, and I think it’s become a comfort for them,” he says. “I kind of attribute our business to that. They grew up with us.”Meet some of the Central Ohioans who baked their way through 2020.
To keep those longtime customers happy, the bakery doesn’t change things willy-nilly. It started as a small retail operation and remains one today, never jumping into wholesaling. Except during the heyday of Reeb’s Restaurant on the South Side of Columbus in the mid-20th century, Resch’s delicacies have never been available anywhere else besides its bakeries. Frank X. Resch started helping out in the business when he was 7 years old, first sweeping the floor and cleaning pans and then learning how to bake from his father and a German baker. Now, the current owner of the business and his most trusted managers—many of whom have worked for the business for decades—teach those same precise baking techniques to new employees, who often start at the bottom just like Resch did and then work their way up to bakers, cake decorators and other more critical jobs.
Yet Resch’s hasn’t exactly been standing pat. It’s doubtful the business would still be around if it hadn’t moved to the larger Livingston Avenue location six decades ago. Its most popular items have also shifted, from bread in the early days then to cakes and now doughnuts. “You listen to the customers, and they kind of tell you the way to go,” Resch says.
In late October, Resch stands in the bakery kitchen. It’s just before 8 a.m. on a Saturday, typically the busiest day of the week, and his team is hard at work preparing for the rush. The Buckeyes start their pandemic-delayed football season on this day, which means Resch expects to see more customers in the early morning before the game’s noon kickoff. Dreary weather also might increase sales. “When it’s hot and muggy, nobody wants to eat,” Resch says.
Resch watches an employee put the finishing touches on a tray of sugar yeast doughnuts, a more breadlike, hexagon-shaped variety. “I’ll take those out, Matthew,” he tells the baker, before shuttling the tray to the front of the store. On a busy day, Resch joins the rest of the team in food preparation, helping out where he can.
Gary Diewald, the production manager for Resch’s, usually spends his Saturdays in the front of the store, making sure the shelves are stocked with cookies, cakes and other goodies. He also limits the number of customers in the store at a time and makes sure social distancing is maintained. “We’re trying to get people in and out as easily as possible,” says Diewald, who’s worked for Resch’s for 46 years.
When they enter the bakery, most customers grab a ticket from a dispensing machine and wait for their number to be called. But a handful instead pick up orders directly from a metal shelf next to the entrance and in front of a mural of the Black Forest region of Germany, where the Resch family comes from. This shelf is stocked with prepaid online orders, a new service. “We’ve had that for six weeks,” Diewald says. “It’s getting busier and busier.”
On Saturdays, Diewald sees a lot of familiar faces (though they’re masked these days) and gets to talk to longtime customers. And there are plenty on this day. A middle-aged man, standing in line outside the store, says he’s been coming to Resch’s since his childhood, when his mom would buy birthday cakes for him here. A white-haired woman, waiting inside the store, says she got her wedding cake from the original Resch’s on the South Side.
Cecil Jenkins has been a regular at Resch’s for 40 years, starting when his family lived in the Driving Park neighborhood of Columbus. Now, Jenkins lives in Pickerington, but he still stops by Resch’s at least once a week, usually on Saturdays, when the bakery offers special doughnut flavors, such as devil’s food and red velvet. “It’s worth the drive,” he says.