Bittersweet passing for iconic Harvard bakery

By Gregory Harutunian For Chronicle Media

The Harvard Swiss Maid Bakery closed its doors March 2, ending a McHenry County presence since 1968. (Photo from Swiss Maid Baker website)

The Swiss Maid Bakery shuttered its doors March 2 at the close of the business day, ending a presence in Harvard and McHenry County since 1968 and a family legacy that began in Chicago, during the 1920s. A fixture in the downtown area, located at 104 E. Brainerd St., the cessation was connected with an attempt to sell its Woodstock location to a new owner last year. The new owner, Kevin Oleson, walked away from the store leaving the premises in disarray.

In a Feb. 25 social media post, Laura Stricker said, “Following the attempt to turn the business over to another owner in 2018, the Harvard and Woodstock bakeries were unexpectedly returned to the Stricker family in a state of disrepair. We have been left with no choice but to close the doors. We are sincerely grateful to the local citizens, businesses, churches, and schools for their faithful and continued support.

“It is with great sadness that we have come to the difficult decision to close the Harvard location of Swiss Maid Bakery … For over 76 years, Swiss Maid Bakery has had the privilege of serving the best breads, cakes, pastries and sweets in the area,” she said. The Woodstock location at 122 E. Benton St. was closed several weeks ago, after operating there since 1987.

The Stricker family had sold the businesses to Oleson, “a fourth generation baker who comes from Racine, Wis. (where) he mastered the art of making the finest Danish bakery from his father,” and his wife, Angi, according to the bakery’s website.

“The city is sad that they are closing, especially such a staple of the community,” said Harvard Mayor Mike Kelly. “Generations of Harvard residents, and many outside the immediate area, have tasted their creations, it’s disappointing. Many times, I’ve taken my own children in there for doughnuts … as mayor, I’ve done ride-alongs with city crews, and there was nothing like stopping in there for coffee and a doughnut when plowing snow, early in the morning.”

The bakery website traced the history of both locations: “In 1925, the Stricker and Planzer families both had bakeries on North Avenue in Chicago. The Strickers moved to Harvard in 1943 and purchased a bakery from R.J. Keeley. A few years later, in 1949, the Planzers also moved to Harvard and bought the bakery business from the Stricker family. In 1955, Tony and Shirley Stricker acquired the bakery from the Planzers family through their marriage.

“Twenty years later, in 1987, Kurt, Paul and Eric Stricker took the family business over from their parents, Tony and Shirley. Together they opened a second location in Woodstock.”

Both sites were known for their cakes, coffee cakes, doughnuts, kringle, cookies, and bread.

Requests for comment from Paul Stricker were not returned, although a store employee said the baking aspects were winding down including “no more” sauerkraut rye bread.

“Business is business,” said Kelly. “I know the owners wanted to retire, and sold the operations to keep it going, but I guess it wasn’t in the cards. People would come from around the county to visit the shop, and take home the sweets. Eventually, another business will come in, and we’ll embrace that one, just as much.”