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Lots of (doughnut) holes in bakery owner’s life

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As a Watertown police officer for 20 years, Paul G. Alberry admitted he’s eaten his share of doughnuts.

But for the past 13 years, the retired police officer has sold a lot more of the sweet breakfast cakes as the co-owner of Mr. Rick’s Bakery.

He’s peddled so many doughnuts — and breads, rolls and desserts — since his family bought the Mill Street bakery in 2000 that it’s time to find a bigger location. He has a purchase offer on the former Butler Fence Co. building, 17099 Route 11 in the town of Watertown, from owner American Asphalt Inc., Massena.

The 1,500 square feet of rented space at 525 Mill St. — containing the retail end of the bakery and a coffee counter in front and a kitchen in back — “is just too cramped,” he said.

For about three years, Mr. Alberry, who owns Mr. Rick’s Bakery with his wife, Frances M., and son, Paul G., has looked for a new home, first in the Jefferson County Corporate Park and then at another location on Route 11. The other two spots just did not work out, he said.

“Maybe a third time is a charm,” he said.

With about 150 customers, Mr. Rick’s Bakery serves mainly a wholesale business, selling breads, rolls, doughnuts and desserts to 13 Nice N Easy convenience stores, some of the best-known restaurants in the north country, several area school districts, a number of north country campgrounds and other businesses.

“We’re much more than doughnuts,” Mr. Alberry said, although they made about 170 dozen of them the night before.

By the time the bakery closed at noon Thursday, only a handful remained.

His customers are all over the north country, with some as far afield as Pulaski and Cranberry Lake, he said. When he purchased the bakery, he kept the original Mr. Rick’s name because everyone knew it, Mr. Alberry said. But, he also noted, at one point before he acquired it, the business was called Mrs. Rick’s when the former owners divorced and the woman took over the bakery.

In 1998, he retired from the police force after going on disability with a shoulder injury. Doing police work and selling doughnuts, breads and rolls have an important similarity.

“It’s in the way you handle yourself,” he said, adding, however, that “the product sells itself” when it comes to the bakery business.

Most of his nine employees have been with him for years. Mr. Alberry found his doughnut guy, Lance Noftsier, who has worked in the business for more than 35 years, while standing in line at Dunkin’ Donuts when he was still a cop, the bakery owner said. And waitress Julie L. Harra, a former restaurant owner, has worked there since the Alberry family took it over.

“She came in one day and I told her I was looking for good help,” he joked. “And I’m still looking for good help.”

For his regulars, Mr. Rick’s Bakery is not just a coffee shop; it’s practically an institution. Many have come and sat at one of the stools at the same time of the day for years. The conversation often turns to politics and current events.

“It’s a unique place,” said John P. “Jack” Bruce, a retired funeral director who started showing up at the coffee counter before it became Mr. Rick’s Bakery. “It’s something new every day.”

Mr. Alberry intends to sell the business’s equipment at the Mill Street location and then start over in the 3,700-square-foot steel-framed structure on Route 11. Work on the $200,000 project began a couple of weeks ago, with hopes it will be finished by the first of April. He presented preliminary plans to the Watertown Town Planning Board last week.

At the Route 11 location, he will have all new equipment in the kitchen, including a new revolving oven, automatic roll and dividers, and a counter and table space for 15 to 20 people.

With the larger kitchen, he said, he hopes to add to the menu with more desserts, pastries, tarts and maybe homemade soups. He may add a handful of additional employees after he opens the new location. The hours will stay the same; it will open at 6 a.m. and close at noon.

Mr. Alberry looks forward to the move.

“I ate doughnuts as a cop for 20 years,” he said. “And I’ve been making them for the past 13.”

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