Often times, the highest quality comes from perfecting the simple things.
Such is the case with Hess Bakery & Deli, the Lakewood institution that has built a reputation of offering the freshest and most authentic German baked goods, sandwiches and groceries anywhere in the South Sound.
Customers won’t find fancy contemporary creations or food that explores new ground. In fact, it’s quite the opposition. They will find traditional German staples, everything from soft pretzels to rye sourdough bread to landjaeger dried sausage.
It’s the reason that the business at 6108 Mt. Tacoma Drive Southwest has built a loyal following since it opened in 1963. It first catered to military personnel on what was then known as Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base, but today its reach extends up and down the Puget Sound region.
“We are a scratch bakery. Everything is made by hand,” said Joanie DeGrande, who along with husband John are co-owners for the shop.
“I’ve known generations of people since when they were little kids,” said Dario “Kiki” Cardenas, who started as a baker for Hess nearly four decades ago and today is the other co-owner. “I gave them candy. They’re in their 20’s and 30’s now. I still give them candy.”
Those longtime customers know the story of Hess Bakery & Deli well.
Tony and Hilda Hess, the store’s namesakes, immigrated and settled in the South Sound. Tony Hess was a trained baker, but there wasn’t enough money in war-ravaged Germany. At first, he went door-to-door, selling and delivering bread on Fort Lewis and McChord. Cardenas said following World War II, many members of the military married German women who yearned for bread, meat and other food popular in their native country.
“He found out it could be a great business,” Cardenas said of Tony Hess.
Business picked up so much, in fact, that the couple opened a small store and deli on Bridgeport Way, not far from its current location. As the store’s reputation traveled by word-of-mouth throughout the local German community, Hess Bakery & Deli was regularly packed with customers.
“Those were the hardest-working owners around,” Cardenas said about Tony and Hilda Hess. “There was nothing beneath them.”
From the start, Hess has always been a family run business with longtime employees. For instance, Cardenas became Hess’ first major baker – other than the Hesses themselves – in 1978. He had grown up in Germany and attended baking school there before coming to Lakewood. The store has seen other employees work 20, 30, even 40 years.
In 1980, Tony Hess built the brick building that currently houses the shop. In 2006, around the time Tony Hess passed away, the Hess family sold the store to Cardenas and Joanie and John DeGrande after some 45 years of being family owned.
True to their word, the current owners have kept to the same formula that the Hesses perfected. The baked goods, the imported products, the handmade sandwiches – they’re all of the highest and most authentic quality.
The bakery doesn’t do wholesale because, frankly, it doesn’t need to. The shop’s most popular items are pretzels (which come in traditional, roll and stick form) and rye bread, which today is made with non-processed flour.
The deli features fresh meats and cheeses and is a popular lunch or dinner option. Nearly all of the products on the store’s shelves and in its refrigerators are imported directly from Germany or are products locals might find in a German store. Even the chocolates and gummy bears, Cardenas says, actually taste like the products one would find in the old country.
In essence, a Hess customer could pick up authentic German pretzels or bread, meat, beer, geschnetzeltes, soda, beer, laundry soap and a magazine all in one stop.
Despite its longstanding popularity, Hess built its success without any major advertising, which speaks to the importance of loyalty among the local German population, the owners say. Of course, they welcome all newcomers, whether they’ve traveled to Bavaria or not.
“It is a very unique store,” John DeGrande says. “There are so many people that come in here with questions, and we walk them through. We’re still a family store.”
For its more than 50 years of success and commitment to the community, the City of Lakewood recognizes Hess Bakery & Deli as its November 2016 Business Showcase.