His first assignment in the Lion House kitchens was to make two or three pies. That was in October 1970.
And that was the only time Bill Ellis made three pies a day; he's made a daily average of 30 since.Ellis is the hands behind the traditional and trusted recipes from the Lion House Pantry. Though the baker is quick to credit his co-workers, his longevity in the kitchen is responsible for the consistent quality at the historic restaurant.
Ellis learned his trade through years of experience with the Dunford family bakery. When the Lion House folks called to interview him, he already had a job.
"I had a job; I didn't want another job," he explained. Persuaded at least to interview for the new position, Ellis walked in the Lion House door - and walked out with a job he's held ever since.
And the job has included some challenges along the way.
"There are some recipes we worked on to get just right. We've changed the recipe to get it where we want it, and then we cook it every day. There are other recipes that we've had to alter, especially those with a high fat content. We've had to work on those to get them accepted," Ellis explained.
"We made a chuckwagon roll with honey and oatmeal. Nobody bought it. After this oat bran thing started, we renamed it honey and oatmeal, and it sold really well," Ellis said.
Ellis laughed as he explained how misconceptions continue at the Lion House.
"One of our greeters, years ago, told a guest that our whole wheat bread and our raisin bread were baking. The guest combined the two and asked for whole wheat raisin bread, which we don't make. Our raisin bread is made from our white bread dough with raisins and spices added, making it look a little like whole wheat. From that single mistake, we still get a monthly request for our whole wheat raisin bread. Maybe it's the same guest, but we don't think so."
Ellis possesses a wry sense of humor in his work. Often warned by guests of their reservations at the Lion House, the baker maintains his low-key approach.
"You know, I could create a mess around here if I wanted to. We've fed important people in the (LDS) Church and in the community. I've made cakes for the prophets, but I never look at the name on the order. Everyone who comes to the Lion House gets the same quality treatment from the kitchen," Ellis said.
He and his pantry staff have extended their luncheon menu to include a weekend buffet. Friday and Saturday dinners include an expanded menu of seafood and prime rib selections plus Ellis' bread and dessert specialties.
Whether at lunch or dinner, you can count on Ellis to bake another batch of rolls or one more pie.
And you may even catch a glimmer of pride in the baker's eye as he completes the kitchen orders for another day.
Basic Cream Pie
Date Nut Bread
Sugar Pea Salad
Shrimp Platter Appetizer
Ham and Green Noodle Casserole