A line of customers stretched from the register past a glass case filled with pastries to the door, and a bread-cutting machine hummed as it sliced loaves of freshly baked bread.
The scene at the Schuyler Bakery in Watervliet on Friday morning, Aug. 8, has been mostly the same since it was opened in 1954, and in October it celebrates its 60-year anniversary.
Steve and Toni Halayko have been married for 68 years and met in Watervliet after Steve came back from serving in WWII. While Toni, 88, and Steve, 92, have mostly handed over the reigns to their sons, Jay and Bill, the majority of their lives have been spent in the business.
“You grow in it, you eat and sleep it. We love it,” said Toni. “When something comes out different and you say, ‘Oh, isn’t this beautiful? How good it tastes,’ and everything else. You enjoy selling it because you know it’s so fresh. You bake it right here, and you sell it right here.”
The mom-and-pop store has a longevity that is increasingly uncommon in the baked goods industry. With competition from big box stores where goods can be produced cheaper and faster, the Schuyler Bakery has maintained its affordable prices and high-quality baked goods.
“We do everything — cakes, wedding cakes, pies, cookies, rolls, bread, pastries, donuts, muffins, you know. We’re a diverse retail bakery, which is a dying breed in America,” said Jay.
The quality of the baked goods that are made from scratch on site is part of a labor-intensive process that keeps brothers Bill and Jay working long hours.
“I work about 70 hours a week, and my brother works 60 to 70 hours a week. People look at you like you’re crazy. That’s what you do if you want your stuff good and you want your stuff fresh,” said Jay.
The employees are mostly in it for the long haul, too. One employee retired after working at the bakery for 29 years. Jay said some of the workers that began when they were in high school still come back to help out on the holidays. Jay said the idea is that if you treat your employees well, they will come back.
“I have girls that come back on the holidays that started when they were in high school that are in their 30’s and 40’s and come back to help. If you’re good to your employees, they’ll come back,” said Jay.
The ability to adapt has contributed to the bakery’s staying power. When it opened, the main drag for everyone heading to and from Albany was right in front of the store on Route 32. When I-787 was constructed, a lot of the business was rerouted. Word of mouth, quality food and affordable prices helped to keep the place running.
The bakery also worked with schools and when the schools said they wouldn’t be able to order from Schuyler’s anymore. In order to keep the business, the bakery became the first and one of the only peanut-free bakeries in the area.
The fact that the bakery is doing as well as it is, having spanned six decades, is not been lost on Toni.
“God’s been very good to us,” said Toni.
The bakery will be celebrating its anniversary in September by offering different deals over the course of the month.