Jennifer Hammond knows exactly what to do when there’s a birthday at her office. She immediately picks up a cake from Kruta’s Bakery in Collinsville.
For the last century, the family-owned business has lured customers with kolaches, danishes and a wide variety of other baked goods.
“They’re just so tasty — the doughnuts, the cakes, the cupcakes, everything. It’s really good,” said Hammond, who lives near the bakery.
On Sunday, Kruta’s Bakery will celebrate its 100th year as a family-owned business.
Kruta’s Bakery first opened in East St. Louis in 1919 but in 1974 moved to its current location at 300 St. Louis Road in Collinsville.
Frank Kruta Sr. and his wife, Anastatia Vokracka Kruta, established the bakery after immigrating to the U.S. from Eastern Europe. He brought recipes from Russia, and she contributed hers from Ukraine. The bakery still uses them to this day.
Family members say the bakery has stayed successful for decades because it has focused on putting its customers first.
Jo Ann Kruta Aleman, 71, worked at her grandparents’ bakery when she was in high school. She remembers the long hours.
“Sometimes I would sleep in the bakery until it opened and then work from 6 in the morning until the bakery closed,” she said. That meant 12 or 13 hours in many cases.
Aleman said her family valued their customers above everything else, even if it meant remaking an entire cake. Her uncle, Frank Kruta Jr., once received an emergency call from a wedding on a Saturday night. Something had happened to the cake after the bride threw her bouquet.
“They knocked over the cake,” she recalled. The bride had faced the cake when she threw the flower bouquet and a crowd of women rushed to catch it. Aleman said her uncle dropped everything and started a new cake for that wedding.
“Uncle Frankie went in and rebuilt that cake for them,” she said. “That’s the kind of business we ran.”
The bakery’s commitment to customers hasn’t changed. Employees still bake everything from fresh from scratch daily.
That character has turned many locals into loyal patrons, like Diane Meyer, who lives in St. Louis.
“It’s a little bit like bakery heaven in here,” said Meyer, 71. “Everything looks good. It’s well maintained.”
Meyer first discovered the bakery when she moved to Collinsville in 1981 and has visited it for nearly 40 years. Since moving to St. Louis, she travels across the river a few times a week just for Kruta’s chocolate doughnuts and cakes.
“It is that good,” she said. “The taste of their baked goods are better than any bakery anywhere.”
For some members of the Kruta family, this milestone anniversary is a testament to the bakery’s long ties to the Metro East and the different communities it has served.
“We were always a community bakery,” Aleman said. “There was never any talk of going to a bigger area.”
But the bakery faces challenges, like keeping its traditional roots in an era when customers expect bakeries to customize parts of their orders, said Mary Kruta, a manager at the bakery whose husband, Jim Kruta Sr., is Frank Kruta’s grandson.
“As we enter into this fourth generation of bakers, it’s different,” said Mary Kruta, 63. “The world is different.”
Her son Paul, 35, who decorates cakes at the bakery, said its history distinguishes it from many others.
“We’re such a long-standing staple, our market is that we kind of do everything,” he said. “And there’s nothing like it anywhere else.”
Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program: Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Follow Eric on Twitter: @EricDSchmid
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