Becky’s Bakery looks like the Easter Bunny’s factory—egg-shaped cookies await a colorful swipe of frosting; pastel-hued bunny cookies are stacked on the cooling rack; raisin-studded and lemon-glazed Ukrainian yeast bread is sliced and waiting to be buttered.
By Jennifer Strange
For the DC Herald
“We’ll be open this Saturday because of the holiday,” says owner Rebecca Keim, peering out from under a flowered hat. The baker squeezes a piping bag filled with blue frosting, drawing tiny bows on the bunnies laid out on a sheet tray before her.
Keim and her husband, Harold Keim, purchased the lot west of Baron’s Lodge near Killdeer. They converted the former BBQ stand into a compact, fully-outfitted bakery with two drive-up windows.
Since opening last October, Keim has arrived every weekday around 5 a.m., ready to don her apron. Today she’s staying late to finish holiday orders. She offers a slice of Easter bread as she describes her daily routine.
“First, I start the breakfast sandwiches then get the cinnamon and caramel roll dough going, then the bread dough,” she says, gesturing to the large stainless steel bowls on the other side of the bakery. “I make donuts every day and they almost always sell out.”
In between kneading, rising, forming, baking and frying her from-scratch pastries, Keim serves customers. “It’s coffee time for about two hours and we just keep getting more and more people,” she said, adding an itty-bitty black dot for an eye to each bunny cookie.
“These are going to be so cute!” she says of her creations. The space is redolent with the nostalgic aroma of sugar, butter, vanilla and spices. Keim points with an elbow to a container of homemade trail mix on the shelf above her tray of finished bunnies. “That’s my snack,” she says. “It keeps me out of the sugar cookies!”
Keim has been baking since she was 12 years old—that’s when her mother and grandmother started to teach her the family recipes passed down from even earlier generations.
“We’re German and a lot of my baking is German-based,” she says, reaching for a bottle of green sprinkles. “It’s very traditional. Old school. All about time and ingredients.”
Although she didn’t exactly appreciate having to cook for her 19-member Quaker family on the Wisconsin farm where she grew up, Keim looks back on the experience with the wisdom of a few years.
“I never resented being taught how to bake and cook, but I loved the outdoors—I wanted to be out with the animals, husking the corn, in the garden,” she says, trading the sprinkles for a bottle of multi-colored metallic dragées. She keeps talking as she taps a few edible decorations onto each bunny. “Being in the kitchen all the time wasn’t exactly what I’d call a childhood, but now I’m thankful for it because I realize what a gift those years were.”
Keim is quiet for a moment when asked what the catalyst was that brought her to a feeling of gratitude. She moves the stainless steel tray of bunnies to a tall cooling rack that’s about half full of finished cookies.
Keim grew up in a strict Quaker community. All the farming on her family’s 120 acres was performed by hand and by horse-drawn machines.
“I value where I come from—the independence and the responsibility we were taught,” she says. “I learned all about farming and housekeeping. Along with all the cooking, I helped Dad in his furniture shop and Mom taught me everything as a businessperson—she had a craft store.”
But something was missing for Keim. She yearned to put down her own roots. In 2007, she made the life-changing decision to break from her Quaker family and community. She pushed westward.
“I was kind of a rebel,” she says, letting a flirty grin spread across her face. “Let’s just say I love life.”
Keim’s intention had been to make Montana her “settling ground.” On the way, she stopped in Killdeer to visit her brother, who had moved to the area a year earlier and had opened a construction business in Halliday. Keim worked temporarily in the dietary department at Hilltop Home of Comfort and went on to earn her CNA certification.
“Then I got married! That fall!” she says, reaching for a tray of unfrosted, egg-shaped cookies. She arranges her frosting and decorations just-so.
What in the world? How did that happen so quickly?
Keim lights up the small room with another grim. “His name is Harold and we knew of each other’s families back in Wisconsin but didn’t know of each other personally,” she explains as she starts to frost the eggs. “He came out to work for my brother—just a few months after I got here. That’s how we got started to visit with each other.”
When her brother moved his business to Montana in 2008, she and Harold started Keim’s Construction.
“And we met some great people—the Dvirnaks,” says Keim. “Elmer and Kay were the grandparents we never had. They are both gone now and we had the opportunity to buy their house, which was a true blessing.”
Keim adds a nest of sprinkles to each egg. “I love the silent chats I have with Kay while I’m gardening,” she says. About four years ago, after several medical emergencies, she and Harold discovered they were not able to safely carry any biological children to term. “The garden is my stress relief.”
In 2012, Harold changed his business name Western Edge Roofing, which he still owns.
“He’s working his way into getting more training to become a mechanic; that’s his true passion,” says Keim, topping each nest with four bright jelly beans. “He puts a lot of man hours in at Juju’s Pit Stop here in Killdeer. He’s working towards his own garage. He’s a lot like I am—prefers hands-on training and self-teaching.”
There was very limited opportunity for traditional schooling in Keim’s hometown, she says. Most kids, including her and her future husband, attended a one-room school that had classes through the eighth grade. When she left the construction business and started working in the kitchen at Killdeer School in 2013, she spent her off-hours in the study hall. Keim was surprised to learn that a lot of the high school-level lessons were the same she’d been taught in eighth grade.
She credits the Quaker way for what she discovered was a very adequate, if condensed, education: “It’s very to-the-point and specific, where you get the best value out of every minute, every product,” says Keim.
That kind of discipline, combined with her adventurous spirit and belief in her own skills, is perfect for running a bakery.
“At first I wanted to go to school for the culinary arts but knew I couldn’t come up with the money,” says the baker as she finishes another tray of cookies. “I researched what they were teaching and I knew most of it. We decided we would start the bakery with what I already knew.”
Keim looks forward to the day when her full-service bakery can be built, complete with a café and community room. She hopes to teach canning and cooking classes to local kids. Her vision is to support children’s success and learning.
Once all these Easter eggs have been eaten and all the bunnies have hopped away, Keim will turn her attention to Memorial Day goodies and “lots of Spring things,” she says. The prospect makes her grin as she lets her imagination plan around Mother Nature’s seasonal cycle and promises of produce.
“Strawberries will come really soon and we’ll have the best strawberry shortcake,” says Keim. “When the weather cooperates, we’ll have rhubarb. I’m hoping to add some jams and relishes to the menu this summer.”
Once the interview is over, she puts another piece of Easter bread into a bag and offers a hug. She smells of cakes and cookies and grandmothers and holidays.
“I’ve been given the gift of baking and I want to use it for something good,” she says. “I love what I’m doing. It’s my passion, my mission.”
If you go:
739 Bernie St., Killdeer, N.D. 58640
FaceBook: Becky’s Bakery LLC
New hours as of April 1: 5:30 a.m. – 3 p.m.