Interviewed by Lorrie Rands
6 September 2013
Oral History Program
Weber State University
6 September 2013
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It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:
Zenger, Eric., an oral history by Lorrie
Rands, 6 September 2013 , WSU Stewart
Library Oral History Program, Special
Collections, Stewart Library, Weber State
University, Ogden, UT.
September 6, 2013
Abstract: The following is an oral history interview with Eric Zenger. The interview
was conducted on September 6, 2013, by Lorrie Rands. Eric discusses his
business and experiences with Ogden and 25th Street.
LR: It is September 6, 2013, we are in Great Harvest Bread Co., talking with Eric
Zenger about his business, 25th Street and Ogden in general. I’m Lorrie Rands
doing the interview and Rebecca Whitesides is filming. Eric, when are where
were you born?
EZ: I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah. Do I have to really give my age? Way back in
the 50’s. I’m a Utah boy. Where did you go to high school? Actually, growing up I
moved all over the country, east coast, west coast and in between, but finally
came back to Utah to go to high school at Olympus High School and college at
Utah State and the U. Sorry, Weber.
LR: Did you major in business?
EZ: Some, but more minored in business and majored in German and geography. I
liked all three of those areas of study.
LR: What was your driving factor in starting this business with Great Harvest?
EZ: Well, I had sold another business in Salt Lake that I owned and operated for five
years and was looking about for another opportunity. I cast my net pretty wide, I
looked at jobs and existing business and this and that and finally found Great
Harvest, which is a franchise from Montana. After a long evaluation, that just
seemed like the best fit for me. I loved their corporate philosophy and their
product and the way they did business and they liked me. So, we came together
and decided to open a new franchise in Ogden, not in Salt Lake because the Salt
Lake territory was taken, so I had to come north.
LR: What brought you to 25th Street?
EZ: Well, nothing brought me to 25th Street. 25th Street to Salt Lakers was pretty
much an unknown quantity. I stumbled onto 25th Street. When I was doing a
location search for my store, my bread company, I looked all around. It was easy
to identify the up and coming retail districts as Riverdale and Harrison Boulevard
and other points, and one day I think I just came over the 24th viaduct after
getting off the freeway and stumbled upon 25th Street. That was my introduction
LR: Did this building specifically draw you?
EZ: No, the district as a whole. The whole two block span just had a charm and
attraction to it that immediately said something to me.
LR: When did you open your business here on 25th Street?
EZ: Back in 1989. In August of 1989, so it’s almost been 25 years on 25th Street.
We’ve had quite a run here. In fact, it’s now becoming a second generation
business, which is kind of typical to what 25th Street used to be back in the day
when it was in its earlier prime. Small family businesses were run and passed
from one generation to the next and that’s what’s happening with us.
LR: That’s fantastic. You mentioned last time about Margaret and Daniel Hunter. How
much had they done, work-wise on this building before you?
EZ: They had done quite a bit. To the best of my knowledge, which may not be one
hundred percent accurate, they purchased about four or five buildings right here
contiguous to my building—and started developing them. They had, with the
exception of one, pretty much done 75-80 percent of the work. All the main floor
retail spaces had been refurbished and remodeled, with the exception of the
upstairs, the upstairs had not been completed. They were by and large done, not
necessarily particular to our specific use as a bakery, we eventually had to come
in and put a new floor in that was more durable, but the substantial part of
remodeling had been completed.
I think they took a large leap of faith to do that because even though
Ogden City, the government, had confidence in the historic district and could see
what it could become—because they as professional planners had seen it
happen in other parts of the country—I don’t think Weber County and Ogden City
residents were quite ready for or recognized the opportunity of 25th Street yet.
They were early pioneers who risked a lot and in some cases sacrificed a lot to
get things going here.
LR: So, Margaret and Daniel Hunter, they had spent so much money that they ended
up losing the building is that correct?
EZ: To the best of my knowledge, yes, they lost not only my building, but a couple of
others back to the bank, so they weren’t able to profit from their endeavor. We
ended up purchasing from the bank.
LR: Once you opened, how did you draw business to 25th Street?
EZ: I think it was not so much my personal efforts as the quality of the product and
the company that we represented. It was also the fact that we married a really
neat, unique concept, (whole wheat bread wasn’t being offered by and large in
Utah) to a great historic building and district. We had this great product with a
wonderful way of delivering it. Everybody who came through the door got a free
slice of bread with butter and frequently older customers would say, “Boy, this
brings back memories of the way it used to be.” So anyway, the fact that we had
this product and a company that had a good name, and then we married that with
a historic building created community buzz. So, can you imagine this warm
smelling bakery with free slices to everybody who walked through the door, in a
unique old building that evoked certain memories or impulses or emotions in
Awareness of us just quickly spread by word of mouth. Sure, we did a little
advertising and such. One thing that we did that was kind of our gorilla marketing
campaign, we took out free loaves of bread on wooden bread boards to various
businesses with a knife and a big block of butter and a honey bear and so forth.
Right before lunch at about 11:00am when it was hot out of the oven so it really
had an aroma, we would take those to various new businesses and say, “Hi, this
is our new business, here’s a coupon, can you slice this for your customers as
they come in your salon or your store and let them know who we are and give
them one of our coupons?” They were more than happy to do that because it
was a little treat for their customers, something out of the ordinary. By that means
and others, we were able to get word of mouth moving quickly and people just
started to show up. That just worked and before we knew it we were getting
busier and busier with each successive month.
LR: How many businesses were on 25th Street when you moved in?
EZ: Not many, maybe half a dozen at most in the whole two block stretch. It might
have been a few more than that, because there were some of the old bars that
kind of represented the earlier history of 25th Street, but speaking more to newer
businesses that were part of the comeback of 25th Street, there were only maybe
four, five or six. Thomas Hardy’s Salon, run by Thomas Hardy, and Trends and
Traditions, run by Mary Gaskell, and Panache Interiors, run by Peggy Holmes,
and the Bistro Restaurant run by I don’t know who at the time (and it’s changed
ownership several times since), but those were really the only players on the
street. There was very little foot traffic and a lot of vacancies.
LR: You mentioned before about being on the Downtown Ogden Association. What
were some of the changes you helped to make?
EZ: Well, the Downtown Ogden Association was trying to, of course, reinvigorate
downtown Ogden. Outside of the Ogden City Mall, which was between 24th and
22nd Streets, there wasn’t a whole lot of street side activity, it was all inside what
everyone called the fortress. One of the first initiatives I thought we needed to
pursue was changing traffic patterns in downtown Ogden. Two of the major
thoroughfares in downtown were one-way streets, Lincoln and Grant, going north
and south and then another two, 20th and 21st Street, that went east and west
were also one-way streets. I felt strongly that it needed to be changed and that it
was an inhibitor to free flow and convenient access to the businesses, especially
The Downtown Ogden Association let me run with that and we built up a
plea and put that before the city council and they agreed with us and decided
against their own planning department and traffic engineer to change those
streets back to two-way streets to facilitate easier movement of traffic. We also
encouraged them to implement more angle parking because it increased the
number of parking spaces available compared to parallel parking. They weren’t
quite as accommodating there, but in subsequent years they have designated
more spaces on more streets in downtown Ogden to angled parking. I thought
Ogden City Government was pretty receptive and responsive.
LR: That’s great.
EZ: I might say something while you collect your thoughts about why I chose 25th
Street. The company I worked with, Great Harvest Franchising, had a very liberal
and open franchising policy. They aren’t like a typical franchise, in fact, they call
themselves the “unfranchise,” like the “Un-cola, 7-up.” They ask their franchisees
to do very few things really and then otherwise, they say, “Anything else is
possible, do what you want,” which is so uncharacteristic of franchises in general.
In locating my business, I wanted my business to have my imprint on it. Most
franchises will have very specific guidelines for where you can locate and what
the traffic counts have to be and so on and so forth and how much visibility you
have to have and all these other criteria. Great Harvest had some criteria too, but
one of their criteria was identity and that spoke to me a lot. They wanted a
location that had identity, which meant that you could tell any person in Weber
County where your store was and if you could tell them that in just two, maybe
three, words, it would conjure up a mental image in their minds that would stick,
then that was a good location that had identity.
As opposed to some address on Wall Avenue or Washington Boulevard
or Harrison Boulevard, that if they tried to recall that later they probably wouldn’t
be able to. They’d figure it was within a mile or two section of one of those roads,
not a block or two. So, historic 25th Street offered that. Everybody in Weber
County knew what historic 25th Street was, it was the old red light, wino district. It
was the old rip-roaring forties and fifties, the old Junction City railroad soldier
traffic from all over the country and war time traffic and all of that is what
constituted 25th Street. People knew and understood that, so if I had met
anybody anywhere, trying to drum up business for our store and said, “We’re on
historic 25th Street,” that’s all I had to say and they could find it.
Also, I chose 25th Street too because I lived in Europe for a couple of
years and have been in other places where I felt a deep appreciation for a
community that had identity and history and community. I wanted that for my
place of business. Even if it meant that I had to sacrifice some sales and profits
to be there. I would rather be in a place where, when I got out of bed each
morning, I wanted to go there, rather than someplace I could go just to make
more money and have a business. I wanted to not just be in business, I wanted
to have a lifestyle and to me 25th Street enabled me to do that, to go someplace
I wanted to be in a place where I felt community with other small businesses.
Many of which own their buildings, which isn’t always an option in other retail
districts that are primarily run by developers and large commercial interests. We
could own our own buildings and so could my neighbor and the next neighbor
and we could walk to the post office, walk to the bank, walk to our accounting
office, all of these things it felt just like where I wanted to be. That, to me, was
more important than maybe locating my business somewhere where I might have
made greater sales and more profits.
LR: When you originally moved in, how many Ogdenites thought it would be a
EZ: I can’t say that I know for sure, but we did frequently hear comments when we
initially opened that made us think that we had, perhaps, made the wrong choice.
Many of our first customers had said, “Why did you choose to locate here? You
really should have been up on the east bench or out south or by Smith’s Foods
or somewhere,” other than where we were and many would look at us with kind
concern and say, “We hope you make it here,” implying that they didn’t think we
would. Here we are 25 years later and still successful and thriving. I just don’t
think that local folks at the time were quite ready to see historic 25th Street and
its old reputation change into something new and prosperous. Maybe it took a
few people from outside the area coming in and recognizing what a gem Ogden
had in 25th Street to help some of the locals realize that this was something they
had taken for granted.
LR: How long after you opened do you think other businesses started to come into
EZ: It happened, I think, actually fairly quickly, within two or three years. A lot of
people started showing interest and some of the iconic or landmark businesses
that are on the street today started showing up such as, Rooster’s restaurant and
The City club and a few others, La Ferovia restaurant. They all started to take
notice and started investing in 25th Street. It was fairly quickly that things started
LR: Once that happened did you notice a change in the atmosphere of 25th Street?
EZ: Absolutely. It seemed that, fairly quickly, Ogden City residents and Weber
County residents quickly started to see what potential this street had and started
to appreciate the good vibe that was developing here.
LR: How much has that changed since you came in 1989?
EZ: It’s been pretty significant. Nowadays it’s hard to find a good spot on the street,
whereas at that time it was pretty easy. Nowadays, the parking is always full and
is actually a concern. We’d love to see Ogden City maybe address that somehow
with increased parking options. From some of those practical standpoints like
parking and so forth, it’s changed significantly and vacancy standpoints it has
changed significantly. Property values have certainly been boosted two or three
or who knows, maybe even fourfold since we first came here.
LR: When a business moves out of 25th Street, how long does it take before that
building is snatched up?
EZ: It’s all relative. Even, believe it or not, on a two block stretch of road and on a
south side and a north side of the street, the old adage of, “Location, location,
location,” still applies. It can be as little as a waiting list, someone is waiting at the
door for someone to leave, or it could even take six or eight months. Especially if
the building has not been remodeled and updated.
LR: When you first moved in, there’s lots of talk about tunnels, was there anything in
your basement that maybe hinted of that?
EZ: Well, in our basements, they were dirt floors and rock foundations. They hadn’t
really bolstered, in doing the remodeling, they hadn’t changed much of that
because they’d stood for a hundred years. I guess they figured that they would
stand for another hundred years without drastically changing the foundations. We
didn’t find any tunnels, but we do have old whiskey barrels that are part of our
foundation. I guess those were meant for concealing things in. The building next
door to the Great Harvest Bakery where the Queen Bee gift shop is, we found
little fire pits still in the basement with old box springs and mattresses where,
apparently, I was told, that gypsies had still been living within five or ten years of
our assuming ownership of that building at 270 25th Street. That would have
been even in the early to mid-eighties. Folks were still camping out down there
and making fires and all of the floor joints are charred black, so apparently quite
a few fires had been made there. Some of the rudimentary furnishings that they
used were still there.
LR: In the upstairs was there any evidence of what went on?
EZ: Upstairs? No, that was really just a stripped out vacant space. I was able,
though, to find an old newspaper article dated from 1949 or 1950 that spoke
about our building in particular, naming it by the address, showing a sheriff’s raid
had been conducted there and that a lot of gaming equipment and illegal alcohol
was being sold out of that location. It had two or three pictures of the stuff that
had been confiscated and laid out on tables, showing a little bit about the history
of this building.
LR: I actually found that and it was fun to read, so that was cool that it happened
here. Is there anything else you can think of about your being here that you’d like
EZ: Well, not really, I’d just say that I don’t regret our decision one bit. The sense of
place that we feel here is tremendous. We’ve had good economic success here.
The people of Ogden City and Weber County have received us with open arms
and Ogden is a great place to do business. Despite some of the perhaps
negative attitudes that some local Ogdenites had about their own town and it
being a good place to do business, it is a good place to do business. 25th Street
is a great place to do business. We love being here and despite some of the
difficulties in parking and such, I wouldn’t be anywhere else between Salt Lake
and the Idaho border other than right here. We just love being a part of history
and being a part of the community and we love the reaction that our customers
seem to get out of it too. They like coming to a place that has history and identity
and personality. We look forward to another 25 years.
LR: Do you find that there’s a sense of a more family oriented space than…?
EZ: Absolutely. All day long, mothers with children walk in. Everybody seems to be
comfortable down there now. Whereas, in the earlier days, even for five or ten
years after we opened, people were quite reluctant still to come down. Not
everyone was, because we were thriving, but many who hadn’t tried us yet or
who hadn’t been to 25th Street in 20 or 30 years, were still reluctant to come
down and they had to be persuaded. Now, it’s a place where families and
children are everywhere. In fact, photographers, almost a day doesn’t go by that
a photographer doesn’t show up with a wedding couple to take pictures. It’s just
become that kind of an environment now.
RW: No. I’m just a huge fan. What’s your favorite bread that you make here?
EZ: My favorite bread is probably the simplest and most common bread that we sell
and that’s our honey whole wheat bread. It just has such a rich, moist, nutty full
flavor that you can eat it every day of your life and not get tired of it.
LR: The second building, you were leasing it, is that correct?
EZ: What happened is we bought our original bakery building in 1989 and then
Margaret Hunter, who hadn’t quite developed the space to the west, 270, it was
run down and the ceiling was caving in and the floors were caving in because
water had been penetrating for years and maybe decades. She offered to sell
that to us undeveloped about three or four years later and we decided to take her
up on that. So, we purchased it and we remodeled it top to bottom and initially
leased it out to other business owners who opened gift shops or English tea
shops of one form or another. Finally, we opened our own deli operation here
maybe in about 2004 or 2005.
We operated them as independent, separate businesses for three or four
years and then finally breached the wall between the two buildings. We breached
the heavy, thick, brick wall with a substantial opening about eight feet across and
eight or ten feet high to allow free flow of people between the two and it was a
real good decision. Most of these buildings are very narrow. In fact, ours are only
about 17 feet wide so they kind of can be a little bit claustrophobic, but when we
put that opening between the two, somehow it just made the space really work. It
made each individual side seem even wider, like they were 20 or 25 feet even
though they were still 17 feet. It really made everything much more open and free
LR: You mentioned that it’s turned into a family, two generation business. How has
EZ: Well, my son, several of my children, I have four children and three of the four at
one time of another worked in the bakery as kids trying to put themselves
through college or what have you. The environment just really clicked for one of
my kids. He’s just made for it, my son, Christopher. He’s very outgoing, very
creative, and when I got to the point where I was looking to scale back and
looking for someone to fill my shoes, he expressed interest and I gladly received
that interest because he is made for it. He knows how to engage people and to
serve people and he has a passion for product quality and organization that’s
needed in small business management. It was just a natural fit, so he’s the man
now and we’ll be going forward and who knows how long that might be.
LR: Is he doing both sides?
EZ: No, he does the bakery side. On the other side, where the Queen Bee is, it used
to be a full service deli occupying the entire space, but in the last few years we’ve
modified that a little bit and consolidated the deli up front a little bit more and
opened the rest of it to a unique gifts shop. It’s primary emphasis, however, is
books and chocolate and then it does have other gift items. My daughter, Hailey,
who is awaiting news as to whether her husband gets accepted into medical
school, is running that business. So, it’s become quite a little family operation.
LR: There has to be a certain sense of pride in knowing that your children are
continuing your legacy.
EZ: Yes, they are good, hard-working kids who are pursuing good things and that’s
neat. I’m not just saying this to say this, but I honestly feel that 25th Street is
partially responsible for that—not just me as their father and as a business
entrepreneur. 25th Street just kind of breeds that kind of desire in people and
families. My children love this street as much as I do, if not more, because
they’ve grown up with it and they appreciate it. They wanted to be part of it too.
Even if it might only be for a temporary span of a few years or what have you,
they want to be part of it too. Being able to own my own buildings and control my
own destiny as far as landlord ship and so forth, enabled me to make that
opportunity available to them. They love the prospect of doing that.
LR: That’s great. I wish I had more questions. I’ve kind of wracked my brain with
everything that I had. I appreciate your time and it sounds to me like you were
almost instrumental in bringing business back to 25th Street.
EZ: Well, I don’t know if that’s necessarily true. We did do our part and a lot of folks
have credited us with being one of the early ingredients that helped bring in more
foot traffic and vehicular traffic to 25th Street, in more than just a few numbers,
but in larger numbers and to re-introduce people to 25th Street. So, we’ll take a
little credit for that, but there are certainly others and some who were here before
us like Thomas Hardy and Mary Gaskell and others. We certainly feel like we
contributed something to it.
LR: That’s great. I thank you for your time and your willingness to sit and do this with
EZ: Thank you.
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