Rogers' Bakery to rise from ashes

Community members have thrown their support behind the bakery and its operators.

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COLLEGE PLACE - One day after the fire that burned Rogers' Bakery, owner Kelli Leen returned to the building, surprised to see how much was intact.

Sitting on the grill was the charred veggie burger a customer had ordered just a moment before an electrical fire ripped through the ceiling Tuesday. Two full pots of the house baked potato and broccoli soup remained in their ready-to-serve state. The tile floors and dated bathroom were relatively unmarred.

And the coincidence of assessing the damage on Ash Wednesday didn't escape Leen either.

"There we were all working in ash basically," Leen said.

She and her husband, Lenny, are trying to keep a positive perspective on what they call a "nightmare" of a situation. The fire that started in a light fixture at 116 N. College Ave. and was restricted to the ceiling caused an estimated $25,000 damage to the building and $100,000 damage to the contents.

Though plans for the future are still being determined, the couple is resolute about one thing.

"We are definitely planning on re-opening," Leen said in a telephone interview Thursday.

The bakery and cafe famous for its maple bars and apple fritters and increasingly known as a lunch spot in more recent history has been a fixture in College Place for nearly 50 years.

"I have people come in the bakery that used to come in when they were kids and remember when the maple bars were 10 cents apiece," Leen said of the now-$1 pastries.

The business has been such a beloved piece of College Place history that some customers have struggled to watch changes take place. When Leen covered what she believed to be old, dated wallpaper in the bathroom, someone took exception to the change. The new flowery wallpaper was ripped off in sections to reveal the older newspaper-print-type paper.

In addition to the snacks served up in the dining room, Rogers' Bakery also supplies its baked goods to a number of local businesses, including Andy's Market, Walla Walla General Hospital, the West End Market and Walla Walla Java Hut, among others.

Started in 1962 by Russell and Ruth Rogers, the business became a staple of College Avenue. Russell Rogers ran the operation as head baker until 1994, when he retired. The operation continued under his son, Randy, who sold the business in 1999 to Ron and LoAnn MacDougall. The MacDougalls expanded the business with lunch options. At the end of 2000, Dave Paige, who learned to bake from Russell Rogers, and his wife, Gilda, began running the business under a lease-to-buy agreement.

Lenny and Kelli Leen purchased it in 2002. They trained with Randy Rogers. Their son, Colby, has since become the head baker with a staff of about a dozen employees, largely students from Walla Walla University and Walla Walla Valley Academy.

In the days since the fire, community members have thrown their support behind the bakery and its operators. One nearby property owner offered to house their business temporarily and free of charge to help get them through until their building is ready for an opening, Leen said. Though the couple decided to instead focus on the reconstruction, the help has been incredible, Leen said.

"We have had such an outpouring from the community. This place is part of the history of College Place," she said.

She expects an absence of at least two months - perhaps three - before the grand re-opening. Despite some upgrades to the building, the recipes will remain just as they have always been, she said.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

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