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Farmers market bread business expands in time for the holidays

Roy Mills fell in love twice in Germany. He was 22, and it was 1981. He was stationed in Germany with the Army. Love struck him the first time when he met Marliese, a German citizen, and the second time, in a lesser degree, when he tasted German style bread. So he stayed in the country. He worked at various jobs, mostly involving carpentry, and the couple had three children. For about 25 years, Roy enjoyed life and German bread. 

Marliese never wanted to live in the United States, but after visiting Roy’s side of the family in Montana, she wanted to stay. Roy loved Marliese so he agreed. The couple moved to Arlee about eight years ago. But after settling in, something wasn’t quite right. The problem occurred when Roy bit into a slice of bread. His second love was missing. Marliese agreed with him. 

“After living in Germany for so many years, I had a hard time adjusting back to American bread,” Roy said. “Handmade German bread is heartier. I like the flavor and the way it looks. It isn’t perfect.”

Roy thought about his problem and decided the easiest way to get some of the German style bread he craved was to go to Germany and learn to make it. Roy has always liked to bake. He says it’s relaxing. His interest started as he made cinnamon rolls when he was 14 for a homework assignment in his home economics class. So off he went.

“I worked in a German bakery in Germany for three weeks on a vacation from my regular job,” he said.

After his vacation, he was happy. He was baking bread and eating bread and sharing bread. He experimented with seeds, grains and spices. But a person can only eat so much. So Roy decided to sell his bread at farmers markets. 

“This is definitely a passion,” he said, quickly shaping a ball of dough into what looked like a youth-size football on a lightly floured surface, then placing the dough on a flat pan and into the oven. “I like seeing it all come together and watching the gluten strain.”

For three years, Roy sold bread at farmers markets. He named his growing business Backstube Edelweiss, which in German means baker’s nook with an alpine flower. He added many delicacies, including muffins, cakes, pretzels, apple strudels and a thing called a cheese tongue (bread in the shape of a tongue with cheese and bacon bits on it). He had so many things to take to the market he ended up needing to hook a trailer onto his truck. His wife, with a head for accounting, took care of the business side of things. 

“He’s always coming up with something new,” Marliese said with a German accent. “He is the creative side, and I take care of the finances.”

A few months ago, the home base for the business moved to a corner spot on Pow Wow Road in what Roy calls a mini shopping mall accented by a decorative black fence on the south side of town. 

The bakery is ready to serve folks for Thanksgiving and the holidays, and bread lovers can find Roy or his wife in the shop Tuesday to Saturday, from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m.

“I’m still taking the trailer to different farmers markets,” he said. “There is an indoor market in Ronan we are at every week. But people asked how they could get bread more often so we moved in here. It’s an indoor farmers market. We are just getting started but we’d like to have more vendors for a winter market. Next summer, we want to move the Arlee Farmers Market over here. ”

Roy still works at his manufacturing job and Marliese has a second job. 

“Baking bread is my hobby,” he said. “I enjoy it, so I don’t mind coming here after working three 12-hour shifts at my other job. I’ve made a commitment to this. I want to make it thrive.”

The Industrial Revolution might be to blame for the couple’s extra jobs.

“The population explosion created the need for big box stores where everything is made in a factory,” he said. “People have gotten away from buying things at a small business. That makes it harder to have a small business, and many people need two jobs to have one.”

But Roy isn’t opposed to bigger businesses. 

“Those big places are nice to have for the population,” he said. “I’m just saying people can slow down and try something handmade. I’m not saying my bread is the answer to all problems, but it’s a way to slow down. I like to connect with the customers at the markets. Make them something unique if they ask for it. It’s more personal.”

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