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November 08. 2012 1:43AM

How sweet it is: Kay's Bakery marks 25 years


Kay Skilogianis slices a tray of spanakopeta while working at Kay's Bakery in Manchester on Wednesday. The bakery is celebrating its 25th anniversary this week. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER - Betty Grambach, her husband Bob, daughter and grandson made the trip from Nashua to Lake Avenue on Wednesday in pursuit of butter twists from Kay's Bakery. A neighbor who was from Manchester introduced her to the braided cookie-like treat.

"They were so good we fell in love with them," said Grambach. "So when my daughter had some business in Manchester, I said, 'Let's find Kay's Bakery."

For the past quarter century, customers like Grambach have come from near and far to sample the Greek and French Canadian baked creations of Kay Skilogianis and her partner of 42 years, Regis Chagnon. A laid-off cook and a retired Army mess sergeant, they realized their dream when they opened Kay's in November 1987 and never looked back.

With her Greek ancestry and his Franco-American background, they reflect Manchester's diverse ethnic heritage in their cooking, serving up a varied menu of Greek specialities, accented with French-Canadian favorites like meat pies and American standards like brownies and cream horns.

They've relied mostly on long-time, frequent customers over the years, and it's those "regulars" they intend to reward with a 25th anniversary celebration on Friday and Saturday.

"It's nothing big," said Skilogianis, "just something small we wanted to do to be able to give something back to thank my regulars for being so supportive over the years. It's for them."

Mayor Ted Gatsas is expected to stop by around 1 p.m. on Friday to read a proclamation. "He's Greek, so we understand each other," Skilogianis said.

In addition to the coffee, celebration cake and some surprise treats planned for the celebration, Skilogianis said there will be a lot of reminiscing about the friendships and families who've been a part of Kay's over the years.

"The customers that I have, I've had their kids come back and say my mother, my father used to come here, and I remember when I was a kid I used to come here with them," she said. "I have a lot of relationships with a lot of people like that, which is kind of nice."

In her 25 years in the business, Skilogianis has seen the number of bakeries shrink until she was virtually alone, and then expand again in the past five years.

"In Manchester, back in the 1970s, there were about 40 different bakeries," she said, referring to the large number of specialty and ethnic bakeries that dotted the city streets. "Then when the supermarkets came in during the '80s, they started to dwindle, which was really sad."

That has changed recently, as several new bakeries have opened up - places like Terrasini, Baked and Queen City Cupcakes. Skilogianis welcomes the competition.

"I think that's good. It means maybe people are coming back to some of the old traditional things," she said. "I'm glad to see all the places that have opened in the past two or three years."

The economy has put a strain on the business, as the cost of raw materials like butter and flour continues to rise, but the regular customers have made the difference, which is why Skilogianis wants to say "thanks" to those customers as she and Chagnon mark their business milestone.

A round-up of bakeries in the Manchester area published by the Union Leader in 2003 included a summary of Kay's that described Skilogianis as "short on height but big on flavor."

Her humor and infectious energy are legendary among long-time Kay's patrons, as is her humility.

While flattered by the attention her business is receiving, she issued a cautionary note about the coverage. "Just don't make it too sappy," she said.


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Dave Solomon may be reached at dsolomon@unionleader.com.


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