SALT LAKE CITY — There’s a little pastry shop in Sugar House that is as full of incongruities as is its famous eclairs:
- Its name is “Carol’s” and it’s owned by two brothers named Al and Bob.
- It’s located in an alley off a residential side street — arguably the worst location for a commercial enterprise in the state of Utah; it’s like buying pastries from a drug dealer.
- And now the latest: There’s an Emmy sitting on the front counter of Carol’s Pastry Shop, 1991 S. Lincoln Street.
After all these years, Al and Bob Walkenhorst are TV stars.
The shop’s provenance goes back to 1948, the year Al bought the bakery from the previous owner, whose wife’s name was Carol.
The name stuck and so did Al, who brought in his younger brother as a partner. That was when they were 22 and 18 years old. Today they’re 92 and 88. And still going strong.
They’ve been in several locations, all of them more in the mainstream than this one. But being out of the way and hard to find works because in their case reputation, reputation, reputation trumps location, location, location. Through the years they’ve built up the kind of loyal customers who will search until they find you.
It was precisely the offbeat nature of their business, along with the longevity of the owners, that attracted PBS Utah to do a story last year on the very unordinary pastry shop. The nine-minute minidocumentary that featured Al and Bob and their seven decades-plus of making dough was aired on June 13, 2019.
The story, produced by Sally Shaum with videography by John Rogers and audio engineering by Brenton Winegar, was so compelling it was awarded a regional Emmy by the Rocky Mountain Broadcasters when the National Academy of TV Arts & Scientist announced the winners in September.
Shortly thereafter, Sally Shaum brought the Emmy statuette itself, featuring the familiar golden winged woman, and presented it to Al and Bob at the shop. It’s been sitting on the front counter ever since.
On the far counter they have set up a videorecorder in case anyone wants to watch the Emmy-winning documentary featuring them. (You can also watch it online at YouTube.)
Besides the attendant glory, the timing of bagging their first Emmy has been a huge boon for business. Follow-up stories, including one shot in October by a freelance journalist that was aired by Fox television affiliates around the country, have given Al and Bob terrific free publicity, driving curious new customers to their out-of-way shop — customers that are sorely needed given the worldwide pandemic.
“We lost all of our June weddings,” says Al, as he recites a litany of cancellations — retirement parties, graduation ceremonies, corporate retreats, restaurants shutting down, you name it — that have been pastry-business killers in the upside down world of 2020.
The publicity due to the Emmy, he says, “has really brought the customers back in.”
Maybe not to the point where the Utah Jazz are ordering several hundred of Carol’s famous eclairs before each home game, like they used to routinely do, but getting there.
Of course, everyone who comes in the shop gets to see Al and Bob show off their new trophy. They’ll gladly pose for a picture. “But we charge 12 bucks for an autograph,” grins Al, a comment that generates an eye roll from his wife, Joyce.
“Well, it’s gone to their heads,” she says.
Apart from the Emmy, the good news — for bakers and customers alike — is that Carol’s is still opening its doors despite the pandemic.
Which brings up the question people have been asking Al and Bob for some time now.
“Why, at your age, are you still at it?”
“Because we love it,” says Al, without having to stop and think about it. “Because of all the friends we have and we get to see all the time. Because that’s what keeps you going — to have something to do.”
Thus life continues as it has for the past 72 years at Carol’s Pastry Shop, as Al and Bob work alongside grandson Conner Johnson, who they say has inherited the family baking gene and is poised to take the shop into the next 72 years. He’ll inherit the Emmy, until he wins one of his own.