Collin Street Bakery, An American Legend
Fifty miles south of Dallas in the heart of pecan country, the town of Corsicana seems a world apart from the city. Corsicana’s roots actually go back to the 1840’s, when the town first sprouted in the rolling Texas blacklands and where farmers grew cotton. The railroads brought opportunities for growth, and when the town drilled for more water in 1894 it struck oil instead, making Corsicana the site of the first major oil discovery west of the Mississippi.
Overnight, Corsicana became Texas’s first boom town. Major oil companies like Magnolia Oil (which became Mobil) moved in to build refineries. Townspeople began drilling for oil in their own backyards. The town prospered. New oil money built elaborate, stately homes that lined the streets. Just before the turn of the century, Corsicana became a town where anything could happen.
It was during that time that a German newcomer moved into town. August Weidmann had been a master baker in Wiesbaden, and he had crossed the Atlantic with a recipe for fruitcake in his pocket. His dream was to introduce America to the flavorful cakes he had loved in Europe. Soon after he arrived in Corsicana, he met Tom McElwee, a flamboyant cotton buyer and promoter who quietly developed ideas for for marketing Weidmann’s fragrant, fruit-filled cakes.
From the start, they were an unlikely pair. Weidmann was a meticulous pastry chef, more at home in a kitchen than in the world of marketing and sales. McElwee was a gregarious Texan. As owner of the local opera house, he loved nothing more than to rub shoulders with visiting celebrities. Although opposite in temperament, in business they were the perfect pair. Together, they opened the Collin Street Bakery in 1896.
Spreading the word
Ten years later, their venture had already outgrown its space. Weidmann and McElwee relocated the bakery to the first floor of a larger building, built to their specifications. Above the bakery on the second floor, McElwee opened the Elite Hotel, eight rooms of “luxury” accommodations for visiting celebrities. In time, the hotel’s roster read like a Who’s Who of early twentieth-century Americana. Will Rogers stayed there, as did Diamond Jim Brady, Gentleman Jim Corbett, and Terrible Tempered John McGraw. The opera singer, Enrico Caruso, also was a guest at the Elite.
In their rooms above the bakery, hotel guests woke each morning to the aroma of Weidmann’s cakes and breads baking below and inevitably wandered downstairs and into the shop. One day, John Ringling and the entire troupe of Ringling Bros., Barnum & Bailey Circus ordered Weidmann’s DeLuxe Fruitcakes to be shipped to circus friends around the world. And so Collin Street Bakery’s mail-order business was born.
From the beginning, McElwee knew that satisfied customers would be essential to the bakery’s growth. Before his guests departed, he always gave them an extra tin of DeLuxe Fruitcake to share with their friends, creating an effective word-of-mouth campaign. “To outsiders, our business takes on the character of a legend,” McElwee wrote in a letter. “Remarkable things are starting to happen here.” Most remarkable was that the bakery’s success had begun from a single recipe and a shared, improbable dream.
Over a century of quality and care
Weidmann and McElwee remained partners for over 50 years. They died just one year apart. When the McNutt family took over the business, they adopted the same high standards of quality and care. To ensure that only the freshest pecans went into their cakes, they opened a pecan shelling facility in Corsicana. Later, they established Finca Corsicana in Costa Rica where they could grow their own pineapple and papaya. They began producing their exclusive brand of Cinchona coffee, grown on the slopes of the Poas Volcano. One of the most impressive parts of this story is that Weidmann’s Original DeLuxe Fruitcake recipe remains fundamentally unchanged to this very day.
Today, just an hour’s drive from Dallas on Interstate 45, Corsicana is the seat of Navarro County and home to 25,000 people, but it has retained its small town charm. The oil business has faded, but the turn-of-century houses remain. If you visit Corsicana, you’ll find a quaint Texas town where the sun shines bright most days of the year and the creeks run clear, where fishermen catch black bass and sand bass in the reservoir nearby. Downtown, you’ll find a collection of antique shops and one of the last working soda fountains anywhere. And you can ask most anyone how to find the Collin Street Bakery. It’s been in Corsicana for over a century, and it’s one of the town’s largest employers.
While the Elite Hotel closed long ago, the bakery stands four blocks away from its earlier home. The Collin Street Bakery now delivers cakes by mail to 196 countries around the world. Even with its amazing growth, the bakery continues to bring home awards, like the Gold Medal of Monde Selection in Brussels for the best in its class. And true to its roots, the bakery keeps a celebrity clientele, including the Princess Caroline of Monaco, Julius Erving, Lyle Lovett, and Vanna White.
You can come into the bakeshop seven days a week to taste the mouth-watering cakes that will never be found in stores. You can enjoy fresh brewed coffee, and a number of other mouth-watering pastries. Each cake is still baked to order here, reflecting the uncompromising vision of August Weidmann. His original recipe for DeLuxe Fruitcake hangs on a clipboard in the kitchen, and his founding principles still hold: use only the finest, freshest ingredients and always satisfy the customer. Create a product of unsurpassed taste and quality that you’re proud to give, again and again and again.