Clinton bakers sweeten up holidays

Larry Lowary places croissants onto a baking sheet while Gerry Betz rolls together pain au chocolat in their Clinton home bakery

Santa and his fleet of elven workers would be mighty proud of Gerry Betz and Larry Lowary, the masterminds behind the popular Tree-Top Baking.

The baking duo, who only sell at the Bayview Farmers Market, treat the holidays like every other week during the market season.

Early mornings, late nights, long days, tired feet and aching backs are all part of the baking world for the bakers and business owners. Ahead of their final market day of the year, Dec. 20, their entire day was spent on a host of holiday treats: cookies, tortes, rolls, breads.

“Our day starts at 4 a.m. Friday and ends 3 p.m. Saturday,” Betz said. “We don’t think Christmas is any harder than the rest of the year.”

When they began the baking business out of their Clinton home eight years ago, they never imagined the full-scale production they have now. Their first market had 120 products.

When they set up at Bayview Farm & Garden for the final holiday market this year, they’ll have about 1,200.

“This was not intended,” Lowary said.

Perhaps not intended, but with plenty of intention, Tree-Top Baking has become a smash success at the market, and one of the lasting bakeries on South Whidbey. During a visit at their fully-licensed 320 square-foot bakery, mere steps from their home overlooking Possession Point, they rattled off a list of other bakeries that existed when they started. Their advantage, they said, was not having the same overhead of a brick-and-mortar bakery and shop.

“A bakery survives on disposable income,” Betz said.

Instead, they relied on market sales and special orders for their business that operated seven months of the year.

Next year, production will scale back. Betz and Lowary said they will not be at the market every Saturday.

“We’re not gonna be at the market every week,” Lowary said. “We want a life.”

They made 12,429 Christmas cookies of 18 different kinds packaged into boxes and wrapped with a bow. The festive treats are mostly shortbread-based cookies, though some are chocolate, and many of them have sprinkles in green and red.

Betz, a career baker who eventually moved into front-office bakery work before retiring and moving to South Whidbey, has a dirty secret. He doesn’t like Christmas cookies.

“They’re not my favorite cookie,” he said before pointing out that Lowary is happy to eat sweet treats indiscriminately.

“He’ll eat anything with sugar in it.”

Lowary didn’t disagree.

“Pretty much,” he said. “I do have a sweet tooth, unfortunately.”

Neither of them take part in consuming much of their product. That’s more out of health reasons than not liking the taste, though.

“We really don’t eat much of the stuff ­— or else we’d be 3,000 pounds,” Betz said.

In addition to the Keebler elf-esque volume of cookie creation, Betz and Lowary put together cinnamon rolls, tarts and tortes. By the end of the market, they hoped to have sold every last confection, though any that remain are donated to Good Cheer Food Bank.

Both men, in their ‘70s, were looking forward to a break from early mornings, though a deep cleaning of their bakery remained. Beyond that, they anticipated a bit of rest.

“In the winter time, this is a pretty sleepy place,” Betz “It’s kind of a sigh.”