PARK RIVER, N.D.-After 50 years as a family-owned business, Welch's Bakery in Park River is changing hands.

In early March, ownership of the popular bakery, housed in a more than 120-year-old building on the town's main business corridor, will shift to Jameson Hahn, 20, who grew up in Park River.

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For a while now, Toby and Cheryl have been thinking about scaling back on their workload.

"It's six days a week and year round," said Toby, who begins work at 1:30 a.m. every day but Sunday.

Recently, the opportunity came up to sell the business to Hahn, who has been working with them since he graduated from Park River High School a couple of years ago, they said.

Selling the business to Hahn was "a good opportunity for him and a good opportunity for us," Toby said.

"We're glad the bakery is going to continue," Toby said. "We wanted it to stay open. Locking the door would be kind of hurtful."

But it is somewhat "bittersweet" the bakery will no longer be in the family, said Toby.

He grew up in the business, starting in fourth grade, learning from his parents and delivering baked goods.

"All of my siblings worked here growing up," Toby said. "I've been frying doughnuts for 45 years."

Although they didn't join the bakery business, Toby's siblings, three of whom live in town, haven't lost their interest in it, and occasionally drop by for samples.

"They all have keys to the place," he said with a laugh.

The customers

When Toby and Cheryl step away from the bakery, what they'll miss most is their customers.

"We've always enjoyed the people," Toby said. "The public has always been so good."

The bakery provides mostly breads and buns daily to the local school and Good Samaritan Nursing Home. And it draws customers from a wide area who stop in for doughnuts, pies, cookies, muffins, cakes-"pretty much everything, to some degree," Toby said.

They take special orders, such as the 84 dozen buns and 50 dozen cookies they provided for last Thursday's benefit to help Dave Moe, owner of Country Smokehouse in Grafton, N.D., with mounting medical bills.

"You'd think an order that large would take forever," Cheryl said, "but it really doesn't take that long."

A trusty, long-serving oven in the bakery's back prep area can handle 24 dozen buns at a time, Cheryl said.

For the most part, they have not made many changes over the years, Toby said. "We stick with what people like. People know what they want."

Family tradition

Years ago, Toby's uncles, two Welch brothers, ran bakeries in Cando and Rolla, N.D.

Toby's parents, Sonny and Kaaren Welch, moved their family from Cando when they bought the bakery in 1969. The couple still lives in Park River but spends winters in Florida-which is what Toby and Cheryl are looking forward to doing, too.

They are not retiring, though; they're buying the franchise for the local Dairy Queen from Jamie and Mari Bennington of Park River, and plan to open it in April for the roughly six-month season.

Toby and Cheryl say they hope Hahn will do well when Welch's Bakery becomes Hahn Bakery.

"It's been a great business for my parents and us for all these years," Toby said.