Athlone's last dedicated bakery is to close its doors this Saturday, March 30, after Margaret and Leonard Donaldson announced they are to step down after 32 years in business.
Famed for its coffee slices, Chester cakes, bracks and bespoke birthday cakes, Donaldson's Home Bakery in Mardyke Street is one of the town's most beloved institutions. Established in 1987, it has kept trading through recessions and a constantly changing retail landscape, something Margaret and Leonard credit to the loyalty of their customers.
“We have survived on the dedication of our customers, who have kept coming back. People have really stuck with us and the business,” says Margaret.
When Donaldson's announced its imminent closure on Facebook recently, there was an outpouring of well wishes from their customers and friends. But there was one common thread through the comments – where were people going to get their coffee slices from now on?
“For every bun we sell, we sell ten coffee slices. We are non-stop making them, five or six trays a day go out the door,” says Margaret.
Customers have also been asking for their brack recipe, but they are keeping schtum - “All our secrets are going with us,” she smiles. “We make everything from scratch. Leonard makes his Chester cakes the traditional way, and we do birthday cakes in a hour. We'll be missed for that.”
There is evidently some sadness as they reflect on some of the changes they have seen on the street and in the town over the years.
“When O'Neill's Bar burned down [in December 2010] that was a big loss. We lost the post office beside us, and the bank across the road. A lot of the older shops are gone, and now you can walk into any supermarket or filling station and find a range of buns and cakes,” says Margaret.
“But there is a good community on the street and we've had some great get-togethers. We've enjoyed it here. We would like to thank all our loyal customers who have stuck with us over the years, the business community on Mardyke Street, and our landlady Dympna Carolan.”
Margaret and Leonard are also grateful for the support of their three children: George, Sabrina, and Melissa who still helps in the shop – “they all did a stint here over the years.” They are now looking forward to spending more time with their grandchildren Claudia, Gemma and Adam, as well as visiting family in other parts of Ireland and beyond.
“We can't work forever, it is time to go. I'm looking forward to sitting down for a while,” says Leonard.
“We've had very few breaks over the years. The longest we could ever go away was a bank holiday weekend, but even then we'd have to be back on Monday ready for Tuesday morning. It is time for a break.”