Bon Ton Bakery; a French named bakery, owned by English and German descendents. “Bon” meaning “good” and “Ton” meaning “your;” and when put together in the French language it reads “Your Good” Bakery. While the name Bon Ton wasn’t used until 1917, the building in which it is housed, has been a bakery since, at least, 1893.
In the summer of 1910, Floyd F. Fisher, a proprietor of a Racine Dry-cleaning service, sold his business and moved his wife Emma (nee Doering) and his five children to the small community of Jefferson. For six years, Floyd worked as a Watkins Remedies Salesman, until March of 1917, he was hired by a local bakery.
Nicholas Biwer, who had just bought out Lorenz Spangler’s bakery, and his son-in-law, Fred Schilke; hired Floyd on as a baker. The once former ‘City Bakery’ had just been renamed ‘Bon Ton.’ Floyd and Fred worked together, modernizing the old world bakery, bring in dough mixers with built in sifters, and a patent sanitary oven that was fired from the outside of the building.
But Fred didn’t last long in the business, and in January of 1920, he sold the bakery and its’ buildings to Floyd. With the help of Emma, the bakery progressed into the new decade.
Floyd knew how to stir up business; one way was his advertisements to attract housewives into buying his store-bought bread. He ran numerous ads promoting, not only, his bread, but pies and cookies too.
But his clever marketing strategies worked, and the business boomed so much, that in 1925, Floyd replaced his oven with one twice the size of the previous (240 loaves!). The bread became so popular that he even started selling it to local grocers in town and in Helenville, Sullivan and Rome. They would crate the loaves up in railroad boxes and ship them out by train. He even had plans for expanding the bakery into the building to the east, and bought out the brick structure that housed the Universal Grocers store.
Unfortunately, Floyd never would get a chance to see this dream fulfilled. In November of 1926, Floyd died of a massive heart attack in their apartment above the store. He left behind his wife, and five children; preceding in death one son, who had died in 1915 following an operating. Floyd’s only remaining son, Floyd Jr. or ‘Fritz,’ was studying at St. John’s Military Academy.
While Emma and their daughter, Amy, tried to continue the business on their own; the two women soon found out that they couldn’t. While the buildings remained in the family, and Emma continued to work there; she handed over the business portion to Ben Parker and A.F. Schuett.
Parker and Schuett ran the business well, promoting breads and cookies, despite the start of the ‘Great Depression.’ The two and their families would own the business from 1927 to 1937, when Fritz was able to buy the business back.
Fritz was an innovator like his father. After graduating from St. John’s in 1930, he and Everett Puerner leased the Universal Grocer building and started Puerner-Fisher Service Grocery.
However, the business didn’t last long, and in 1933, Fritz headed off to Chicago to study at the Baking Institute for three years. When he arrived back home, he began working for Parker and Schuett, until he was able to purchased it from them.
Fritz began where his father left off. Promoting ’Great Depression’ innovations like the ’Twin Bread,’ a 26 oz loaf that allowed housewives to only have to buy bread less amount of times in a week, and ’Coconut Sticks,’ which were used from the leftover bread scraps.
He would also hold additional promotions to spark up business, including the deal of bringing in a certain amount of bread wrappers from the bakery, and receiving a gift at minimal cost, like ‘American Maid’ dolls, a whistle or kites.
But Fritz’s days at the bakery were limited as well. He died at the age of 25 after complications of appendicitis. He left behind a young wife and infant daughter.
With the suddenly loss of her last son, Emma wrote to one of her daughters, Elsie, and asked for help with the business. In February of 1938, Elsie (Fisher) Radtke, her husband Irving Sr., and their three children (Amy, Richard, & Irving), moved from their Racine farm, back to Jefferson.
Irving Radtke, himself, had no background in the bakery business. A well-driller and farmer, he also worked for the township of Racine, plowing snow. Elsie, on the other hand, had been working as a schoolteacher. Still, they packed up their family and moved into the upstairs apartment with Emma and continued the family business.
In July of 1939, the Bon Ton was remodeled, with an art-deco theme. A larger round window and a B-designed door was added to the front of the building. And by this time, the bakery had even acquired a second delivery truck.
But when America became involved with World War II, it marked a slowdown for many small businesses, including the bakery. Advertising has slowed to a minimum, as people had little extra money to spend and rationing of ingredients began. To fight the shortages at hand, the bakeries in the surrounding counties formed a CO-OP to trade surplus ingredients for others that they needed.
With the bakery business down, the Radtkes decided to expand in other directions.
Irving and Elsie purchased a historic 1840s farmhouse and the surrounding land on the southwest side of town from the Doubleday family. There, they raised fruits and vegetables, had a few animals and, in 1947, started the catering business that became the Great Oaks Tea Room.
The large home hosted weddings, funerals, baby showers, company picnics and even club meetings. Irving was a loyal member of the Jefferson Rotary Club, to which he belong from 1951-71. His daughter, Amy (Radtke) Turner, even followed in his footsteps, and was the first woman admitted into the club years later. Amy joined in the family business; in both the bakery and the catering business. And when Richard returned from serving in the navy, he followed in as well.
In December of 1948, Emma Fisher passed away; leaving Irving and Elsie to solely run the business.
But, of course, there was a bump in the road. A fire in the boiler downstairs exploded and blew out the back of the building. It cause smoke and water damage to the front store and required the bakery to be remodeled.
Business boomed throughout the 1950s and the 1960s; with the Great Oaks being a staple to many weddings and receptions. But in 1971, Irving Radtke suffered a major heart attack, and passed away at the age of 72. With that loss, Elsie formed a partnership with Richard and Amy, and continued to work at the bakery until her retirement in 1978.
By this time, the Bon Ton had outlasted lots of competitors, and was now the only bakery left in town. And it was in the 1970s that Jefferson’s Gemuetlichkeit Days, got its start. The Radtkes became involved with the festival; entering floats in the parade, decorating the shop windows and even hosting food booths.
Since 2006, Bon Ton has run the Hoopensaucher Haus at the Fair Park, serving a wide selection of food for the German fair-goers.
The bakery underwent remodeling again in the 1980s, utilizing a revolving loan through the City of Jefferson. But sadly, the family had another loss in 1981. Elsie (Fisher) Radtke suffered a stroke while tending her garden and never recovered. She passed away at the age of 82.
By this time, Richard’s son, John, had entered the business. While John had worked other jobs previously, he kept finding his way back to the bakery. And here is where he meet his wife. Cindy Schakelman had started working for the bakery part time and the two hit it off. In 1979, they were married.
In 1988, John officially bought out Amy Turner’s portion of the business, while Verla Radtke, Richard’s wife, bought out his.
In 1991, the Bon Ton gained regional fame as it participated in the Taste of Madison, serving up their Veggie Pizza and other tasty goodies to the big city citizens.
Then finally, in 1999, under John’s ownership, Floyd Fisher’s dream became a reality; as the storefront expanded into the eastside building (74 year later). With the catering business expanding, the larger storefront just made sense.
In the meantime, Jessica Radtke, John and Cindy’s daughter, was already helping behind the scenes.
By the age of 5, she would help put buns on the pans, and by 14, she was doing the grunt work of washing dishes and wiping down tables. But she too, fell in love with the creativity of the business and wanted to continue pursuing the family career.
Jessica went on to study at Madison Area Technical College and Blackhawk Technical College, for both Baking and Culinary Arts. And today, she works along side her mom, Cindy, decorating cakes and making pies and desserts.
And like her parents, she too met her future husband in the bakery. Josh Punzel, a 2000 MATC baking and culinary arts graduate, had needed an internship and found his place at the Bon Ton.
It wasn’t long after that, that Josh’s younger brother, Sam, a UW-Platteville graduate, followed in his footsteps. Both brothers have creative minds that they’re able to express through their cooking, and both fit right in with the family.
Jessica and Josh immediately connected through their love for baking, and they married in 2008.
Since then, Verla Radtke has officially retired, and Richard Radtke passed away in March of 2018, but the remaining two generations continue to hold the business in position that will carry them well into its next 100 years.