Memories, recipes all that remain of Indy bakery chain

August 6, 2014

Roselyn Bakery was more than a chain of doughnut shops.

The Indianapolis mainstay, founded in 1943, was a unifying force in Indianapolis.

There were 34 Roselyn stores in Marion and the surrounding counties before the business was closed 15 years ago following revelations of insect and rodent infestation at its production bakery, 2425 E. 30th, according to The Indianapolis Star.

Almost all of them were in Marion County, but they were spread equally all over town. The north side had six Roselyns, the south side had eight, the east side had six, the west side had five. The suburbs had six.

In every case, Roselyn stores were small, one-room buildings fronted with floor-to-ceiling glass.

In the parking lot were complex, Jetsons-style signs held aloft 40 feet on thick sign posts. The signs contained a cartoon drawing of mascot "Rosie Roselyn," a contented-seeming little girl with an enormous head. She wore a bow in her hair and had a nice smile.

You walked into a Roselyn, any Roselyn, and encountered a glass counter running pretty much the length of the building. The case was filled with chocolate eclairs, lemon tarts, cookies (with orange icing during Halloween), doughnuts, crullers, zebra squares, sweetheart coffee cakes, cinnamon-coated dough twisted like a girl's braid and more. You made your selections by pointing through the glass.

A bearclaw from working-class South Emerson Avenue or West 10th Street tasted no different than one purchased on 116th Street in tony Carmel. Before the Colts, Roselyn was one of the few unique, local things that everyone in Indianapolis had in common.

The goods tasted the same because they all were baked at Roselyn's central bakery. That's where the trouble began. (Roselyn corporate was blind to filth, it turned out.)

In June 1999, state Health Department officials got a complaint alleging that sugar- and flour-coated rats had been seen in the vicinity.

Officials toured the plant and found quite a few problems: Rodent tracks were found in a dusting of sugar on the floor beneath the sugar grinder and at least 100 dead insects lay on a table used to cut brownies. There also was stagnant water, bird feathers and vermin excrement.

Health department officials counted up 41 sanitary violations in all.

They ordered the bakery shut down July 1.

It, along with Roselyn's retail stores, reopened just four days later following a thorough scrubbing. But after quite a few detailed media reports about Roselyn's troubles with sanitation, sales had cooled.

Roselyn's owners, the grandsons of the founder, shut down the business Aug. 6.

Indianapolis had mixed reactions.

Some people blamed the media. "Go rot in hell," a woman shouted to a reporter, according to an account in The Indianapolis Star. Some people blamed the health department — "I'm skeptical of government intrusion anyway," said a man.

A lot of people were sad. "Part of our childhood is lost," said a woman.

"I'm nostalgic about Roselyn, too," said a practical-minded man, "but I don't want crawly things in my Bismarcks."

The Clarks switched gears. They hired another bakery to bake their products, and they sold the products in Marsh and Kroger supermarkets. They had success.

They sold the business, called Roselyn Recipe, in 2005 for an undisclosed sum. Roselyn products are still available in grocery stores.

Most of the old Roselyn stores have been torn down but nine still stand, having been repurposed.

The American Sign Museum in Cincinnati has one of the original Roselyn signs. Several others are still standing throughout Indianapolis, though, in the liveries of the buildings' current occupants — "Lee's Cash & Go," ''We Buy Gold," ''Boost Mobile," ''Liberty Income Tax."

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