Back to Braak's

Marie Havenga • Mar 9, 2019 at 9:00 AM

The famous Town Talk cookies may be a thing of the past, but the Braak's Bakery neon sign is coming back to life, thanks to staff members at the Tri-City Historical Museum.

They are in the process of trying to collect $2,600 to pay for restoration of the sign, which hung in front of the bakery at 110 Savidge Street in Spring Lake.

To date, about $500 has been donated.

Once restored, the sign will be on display during a May exhibit called “Tri-Cities: A to Z.”

“We wanted to take a fun look at how we can display some items that wouldn't normally be on display,” said Julie Bunke, the museum's executive director.

The Braak's Bakery sign will be the “B” of the display, which debuts on May 16.

“When the bakery went out of business, they donated the sign to us,” Bunke said. “It had seen much better days. A lot of the neon was broken and the sign was rusty. We couldn't display it as it was.”

Bunke checked with some of her peers at at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum and got referrals for sign restorers.

The museum hired Mike Lacroix from Neon Connection in Grand Rapids to refurbish the sign.

“He said 'I can fix that for you' and we loaded it up in his car,” Bunke said. “We found a picture of the sign as it was hanging on the business on Savidge Street. It had a whitish-blue and a hot pink-reddish color. He's able to restore it back to the original color of the neon. We'll have it up and we'll have it lit during the exhibit.”

Bunke said she knows the sign will take many locals for a stroll down memory lane. She remembers visiting the Braak's in Fruitport as a child in the 1970s.

“It will jog some memories of going and getting Town Talk cookies,” Bunke said.

She said more than 3,000 people have interacted with the museum's Facebook post promoting the fund-raising efforts.

“Every day we have more people commenting about their memories of going to the bakery and getting the cookies,” Bunke said. “Everyone wants to know where the recipe is. We've tried to track that down but everyone is tight-lipped about it.”

Postings on the internet say the recipe was to forever remain a “family secret.”

Jacob Braak immigrated to Grand Haven from his native Holland with just 12 cents in his pocket. In 1901, worked as a baker for the Holland, Michigan, Honey Cake Company, and also peddled his own homemade cakes door-to-door.

In 1903, Braak opened the Spring Lake Bakery in the former blacksmith shop at 110 W. Savidge St. He and his wife, Jennie, baked side by side. Customers could buy three loaves of bread or three pounds of cookies for a quarter.

Not long after, they changed the name to Braak's Bakery. Business boomed with Town Talk cookies, the product of Jacob's experiments with fancy vanilla.

The Braaks added a second floor in 1921, and a cookie shop nine years later. They also opened locations in downtown Grand Haven at the southeast corner of Washington and Third streets and one in Fruitport.

After Jacob's death in 1949, his sons Reynard, Albert and Arnold took over the business, adding a coffee shop to the Spring Lake location in 1951.

A May 6, 1953, newspaper clippings detail the 50th anniversary of Braak's. The celebration included an open house and a parade with bands, fire trucks, automobiles and the original cookie machine.

In 1990, Ron Braak, son of Albert, sold the bakery to Raymond and Emily Bielak.

On March 9, 1997, the building was destroyed by fire. By 1998, the Phoenix Deli Cafe was built on the site and has since been purchased by entrepreneur Kim VanKampen, who plans to redevelop that portion of Savidge Street with a destination restaurant, upper level condominiums, a cafe and retail.

Bunke said despite all the changes to the former Braak's, the memories remain.

“It was known for customer service and being a family-friendly place where you could go and catch up on what was going on in town,” she said. “Whenever you'd go in, you'd get a free cookie. That was always a treat. The sign will be quite something when it's on display. It's quite large – about 4-by-8. It will jog nostalgia for people. People have many fond memories of going to the bakery.”

To make a donation, visit the Tri-Cities Historical Musem's Facebook page or send a check with “Light Up Our Past Fundraiser” in the memo line to the Tri-Cities Historical Museum, 200 Washington Ave., Grand Haven, MI 49417.

“We'll accept donations from $1 on up,” Bunke said. “It all helps.”

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