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OUR HISTORY

In 1762, Johann Conrad Matthes was born in a small German village in the area known today as Württemburg. He learned his craft as a baker early in life. And he must have done well because his son followed in his footsteps and at least three of his grandsons did so as well.

One of the grandsons, August Matthes, established a Guest House and Bakery in the village of Braunsbach in Germany. It was an ideal location, where routes north-south and east-west intersected. Travelers stopped and refreshed themselves. August served them elderberry wine and hearty rye bread. (Interestingly, some bread in Tuscany today is flavored with anise-scented elderberry flowers). Two of the grandsons, Wilhelm and his young brother Wilhelm Ludwig, left Germany and headed for England to seek fame and fortune.

Their skills as Matthes bakers made it possible to do that, and it all began with a small bakery in Rotherhithe in London. From there, Wilhelm Ludwig's son, Louis, moved to East Anglia. And, in 1898, the first Matthes bakery opened in Gorleston-on-Sea. Over the next 80 years, the family baking business thrived. Some 33 outlets, bearing the Matthes name, came into being. Sadly, though, they were bought out by the Spiller Flour Company, which itself folded in 1978. A two-hundred year old tradition of baking bread was broken with the closure of the Matthes bakeries in that year.

An Encounter With The Past

But a new link in the chain of six generations was about to be forged. Wilhelm Ludwig's great grandson, Gerald Matthes - who was living in America - made a business trip to Germany in 1985. He had with him a photo of the Guest House and Bakery in Braunsbach which his great-great-uncle August Matthes had established. Just a photo and the name of the village. Little else was known at the time. Spontaneously, a friend urged that he and Gerald drive to Braunsbach to see what could be learned. Their mission was to find the oldest person in the village, in the hopes that he or she might remember the Matthes Guest House and Bakery shown in the photo. Arriving in the village square, to their delight - and amazement - the building stood intact and little changed since the time of the photograph. The building was locked and empty, but the owner, who lived next door, agreed to open it up. Gerald roamed throught the rooms, finding his great-great-uncle's small cot in a bedroom and the bakery itself. The experience was made even more special when the owner explained that in only five more days the building would be gutted and turned into flats. All evidence of the bakery would be gone. Gerald then explored the attic, finding the floor covered in rubble which, he learned, was the original roof that had caved in when a British bomb had landed in World War II. Just about to leave, his foot kicked against a chunk of plaster - to reveal a small, battered book. He picked it up and found it to be a book of prayers in Gothic German. And on the inside of the cover, in pencil, was written the name of Anna Matthes! (Later, the Stuttgart Museum dated this treasure to be over 200 years old!).

 

Preparation For The Future

This discovery of his ancestor's bakery awakened Gerald's interest in Hearthbaked, hand-formed bread. For the next twelve years he explored and trained in the world of Artisan bread-baking - attending courses at the Culinary Institute of America in New York and the National Baking Center in Minneapolis (studying under Didier Rosada). Along he way he interned in bakeries in New York and Michigan and fitted his own home oven with terra cotta tiles, to simulate a brick oven floor. All the while continuing his 39 year career in marketing - most recently supervising Chrysler and Jeep advertising in International markets.

"God-Incidences" Provides Momentum

On many occasions,Gerald's call to follow in the footsteps of his ancestors was confirmed. The discovery of the Braunsbach bakery had started his journey. Another impetus came from the discovery that there had been a Matthes bakery in Illinois around the turn of the century. Gustav Matthes had opened in Alton and then moved to Grafton, near the Mississippi. (There he had the dubious pleasure, one day, of being visited by the infamous Jesse James and members of his gang!) Later, Gustav moved to Mount Auburn, Illinois and ran a successful bakery - putting his loaves on the train that stopped by his back door and distributing them all the way to the west and to the east of the State.

Different Talents Come Together

Encouraged by many Providential nudges, Gerald determined in 1997 that the time had come to open a Eurpoean-style bakery. He had met Jean-Marc Seranon, a skilled pastry chef from Nice, France and they became partners. In 1998, Trale Broudy, a fine Artisan bread-baker from Sonoma County, California joined them - just as the finishing touches were being put tothe bakery in Downtown Rochester, Michigan. And so The Give Thanks Bakery & Café was born. Exactly 100 years after Wilhelm Ludwig Matthes opened his bakery in Rotherhithe, London. And 220 years after Johann Conrad began baking in Braunsbach, Germany.

 

Naming the New Bakery in Rochester, Michigan

You might ask "Why The Give Thanks Bakery and not The Matthes Bakery?" Especially considering all the inspiration from the Matthes bakeries which preceded Gerald's. The answer lies in a verse from Scripture -

"GIVE THANKS ALWAYS FOR ALL THINGS UNTO GOD"

This new bakery plans to do that in a definitive way - by giving 10% of its profits, at least, to caring organizations in Rochester. In that way, it hopes to make a difference in peoples' lives. That is just what the earlier Matthes bakeries did over the course of six generations.