By CHERIL VERNON
Palestine’s historic Eilenberger’s Bakery — known for shipping thousands of holiday desserts worldwide for more than 100 years — will be re-opening its Palestine bake shop this fall under a new local owner and plans to employ about 50 employees eventually.
Though the bakery ceased its local operations in September 2012, Eilenberger’s Bakery’s favorite products such as its Texas Pecan Cake, fruit cakes and gourmet baked goods have still been available and sold through its catalog and website.
Palestine businessman Bill Jones purchased Eilenberger’s Bakery in late July from its most recent owner, Southern Fulfillment Services, LLC, based out of Vero Beach, Fla., which had purchased the bakery in 2009.
The sale included the 65,000 square foot downtown building, Eilenberger’s Bakery fully functional website — and of course, Eilenberger’s original family recipes from the iconic Palestine bakery, which opened in 1898.
“I want to open up the bake shop back in its original location and go back to the original Eilenberger’s recipes and do it right,” Jones said, noting that the bake shop that has been used for the last several years isn’t the original location.
Jones plans to renovate the building and move all Eilenberger’s Bakery operations back to Palestine. Since the local closing in 2012, bakery production was being “farmed out” to a Nebraska bakery.
This year would be Eilenberger’s Bakery’s 115th anniversary. The bakery, known as the oldest bakery in Texas operating in its original location at 512 N. John St. in Palestine, was started by F.H. Eilenberger, who introduced the tastes and textures of the cakes he recalled from his mother baking during his boyhood in Leipzig, Germany. At one time, the bakery’s fresh bread was delivered in horse-drawn wagons.
“I want to go back to absolutely the real recipes that F.H. Eilenberger used and I think people will be able to taste the difference in the quality,” Jones said.
The 21-year-old Eilenberger added something new and unique to his mother’s recipes with the addition of native Texas pecans, becoming the hallmark of his bakery recipes that are still used today.
Palestine Main Street Director Laura Westgate is ecstatic about the benefits of Eilenberger’s reopening in downtown Palestine.
“We are thrilled to have Eilenberger’s once again operating in Palestine! It was devastating when it closed and created such a void in the downtown. We had visitors who stopped at the Visitor Center on a weekly basis, from as far away as Switzerland, looking for the bakery. It always hurt to tell them it had moved. Bill Jones is doing a wonderful service to the city and now the amazing culinary history can continue!”
Jones — who doesn’t plan to use entire warehouse space for the bakery operations — plans to use the rest of the warehouse space for fulfillment services, such as for national mail order and Internet companies that need a location to house their products before processing orders and shipping.
About the Owner
A small-town boy who became a self-made Palestine businessman, Jones was reared in Slocum and graduated from Slocum High School in 1977. After high school, he worked two jobs for many years — at the old Holiday Inn (now Express Inn & Suites) and Borden Milk.
After several years of working hard and pulling himself up by his own bootstraps, Jones bought the Holiday Inn — which had just become Days Inn — in 1991 and the Ramada Inn across the street, both located on Palestine Avenue, as well as another hotel in Rusk.
At the Day’s Inn (now Express Inn & Suites), he also managed The Gazebo restaurant and the hotel bar, The Iron Horse, at its beginning. He sold his last Palestine hotel, Express Inn & Suites, in 2005.
Since that time, Jones continued to use his experience in the hotel business to help other hotel owners, mostly in South Texas, filling in as temporary management or overseeing changes, as needed. While working in Victoria, he started building hotels in areas where he saw a need, eventually selling all but one.
Palestine has always been home, but Jones is now planning to be in Palestine full-time. He and his wife, Linda, attend Evangelistic Temple and have twins who both graduated from Palestine High School this year.
In 1949, Eilenberger sold the bakery to his sons Fred and Herman and his son-in-law Claude Westerman.
The new bakery owners put the German family fruitcake recipe to work for the bakery. The business venture was successful, and in fact, was so successful that Eilenberger’s switched its primary product from bread to fruitcakes in 1968.
In 1978, Tom Broyles — a fifth-generation Texan and the great-grandson of Texas Gov. Thomas Mitchell Campbell — saved the bakery from closure. He purchased the bakery from the Eilenberger family and owned it until 1993.
Broyles then sold the bakery to Silverado Foods of Tulsa, Okla., managing the bakery from 1993 to 1995. During Broyles tenure in 1980, the Texas Pecan Cake and World Famous Fruitcake earned Monde International Gold Medal Awards at the World Food Selection in Brussels.
The bakery changed hands again in 1997, when Centennial Foods of Atlanta, Ga. purchased the bakery. They closed the doors just a few years later in 2000.
Local residents Terresa and Stephen Smith became the owners and operators of the bakery in 2000.
Smith was well on her way to re-instilling success at the bakery, but fell ill and passed away in 2008. Upon Smith’s passing, Southern Fulfillment Services of Vero Beach, Fla. acquired the over a century-old bakery.
Dana Goolsby contributed to this report.