CLINTON — When someone walks in to Sweetheart Bakery or Homer's Deli in Clinton, they'll notice the family atmosphere within seconds.
That's because the bakery and restaurant have become a multi-generational operation – five generations to be exact. Owners Chuck and Brenda Thornton bought the bakery from Chuck's parents in 1998, making Chuck a third-generation owner of the business. Now, three of the Thornton's children work full time in the bakery as well as one of their grandchildren, marking the fifth generation of Thorntons working in the family business.
The children, daughters Shauna Hansen and Lindsey Thornton, son Derek, and grandson Cade Hansen, are taking on a slow but sure passing of the torch so to speak, according to Brenda. The family affair is one that has been enjoyed by the Thornton bloodline for decades, and one that is showing no signs of stopping.
"We've all kind of worked our way up," Shauna said. "It's a good feeling, knowing our parents are confident in the way that we do our thing, but it can also be nerve-wracking. They have big shoes to fill. They've been here forever...it's nice having the business stay in the family because I can't imagine sending it anywhere else."
As the years have progressed, the younger Thorntons (and Hansens) have assumed greater responsibility around the Main Avenue mainstay, coming from humble beginnings of making candy after school and learning the ropes.
That learning comes from only one process, Chuck recalled. It's a process he remembers going through as a child at the bakery, and one he's seen firsthand with his children and grandson.
"The real way to learn anything around here is by asking questions and getting your hands dirty," Chuck said. "I remember our kids always asking questions, being over our shoulders and just being curious about what we were doing. We've seen that out of Cade now, too."
Both Chuck and Brenda have taken pride in three of their children and a grandchild joining the family business for multiple reasons – one of them the physical work that goes along with being employed at a bakery. But another angle of it has been their production of new, fresh ideas when it comes to the future of the bakery and deli.
That's the beauty of youth, Brenda said. Much like the family environment, customers will most likely notice the buzz that rings throughout the bakery and deli – an energy.
"Kids in general have tons of energy, and they come in with lots of good ideas," Brenda said. "I think the older generations have trouble with change and new ideas, but they've brought so many of those new, good ideas to our business. We're lucky to be surrounded by so many outgoing, energetic people here, not just our family, but so many others."