To some the Dixie Lee Bakery in Keansburg is just a bakery, but for one active, ballroom dancing great grandmother, Elsie Van Dusen, it’s been a five-generation love affair.
On a recent visit to Dixie Lee with her granddaughter and great grand twin toddlers Van Dusen arrived to share some treasured memorabilia and memories with Chef David Burke.
Ever since Burke – who grew up in Hazlet and now has 20 restaurants spanning the globe – bought the century-old bakery in May 2022 cementing its future, fans like Van Dusen have come to the bakery to personally thank him, some like Elsie, bearing family mementos.
“It makes me so happy that the bakery is still there, it’s such a blessing,” Van Dusen said. “I am really pleased and I’m sure my dad is looking down saying, ‘Look at that, it’s still Dixie Lee.’”
Throughout the years Dixie Lee played a role in Van Dusen family’s traditions. After their Sunday midday dinner, the family would have a light supper and a Dixie Lee apple crumb square. Van Dusen’s wedding cake was also made by Dixie Lee for her June wedding in 1956. The owner and founder invited her to help frost some of the wedding cake. Dixie Lee continues to be a part of her family’s rituals, with members living in various parts of the country; when any return to New Jersey the family makes a pilgrimage to Dixie Lee for pastries and to snap a photo together in front of the sign.
Van Dusen grew up in Keansburg and Union Beach. Her father was the bakery’s delivery man until WW II broke out. She showed Burke a framed montage of bakery memorabilia that hangs in her home that she and her husband, now deceased, built in Monmouth County more than 60 years ago. In it was a photo of her sister, Mary Lou, and Elsie on the hood of their father’s Dixie Lee delivery vehicle from the 1940s. Their mother and father fashionably dressed in their Sunday best, stood next to the girls. Also in the montage was a 1942 Dixie Lee price list – apple crumb square 5 cents, a loaf of bread 10 cents, a note at the bottom,” We specialize in birthday & wedding cakes. $1.35 and up.” And a heartfelt note her father wrote to his customers on April 18, 1942. It read:
“I am bidding a temporary farewell to all whose friendship and patronage have made possible my degree of success as their Dixie Lee bakery man. Fitted by past experience of war work of an emergent nature, at this time I feel I have no alternative but to go to that work believing that our nation’s ultimate triumph is certain and that sooner than most of our people expect I may return to tell you that as your bakery man I am once more at your service. Thank you and God Bless, Edward M Kelly.”
Easter Pastries at David Burke’s Dixie Lee Bakery
When he purchased Dixie Lee Bakery a year ago, Chef David Burke promised to preserve the century-old bakery’s home-town vibe while elevating its goods and services. Known for being true to his word, Burke has delivered again and is prepared to take orders for Easter, one of the busiest holidays for old-school bakeries.
Long time fans will still find their favorite traditional pastries such as Crumb Cake and their Easter ones too, like Hot Cross Buns and decorated 7-inch Carrot Cakes. But Dixie Lee’s roster now includes new extended hours, a larger variety of pastries and other tasty additions.
Along with the Easter specialties are Dixie Lee’s famous breads, donuts, before-mentioned legendary crumb cake, pastries and custom cakes for celebrations and weddings. The new hours are 6 a.m. – 6 p.m. Tuesday – Sunday. Easter Sunday hours will be 6 a.m. – noon. Pre-ordering is encouraged by calling (732) 787-0674 or by visiting the bakery.
In addition to the new hours and wider offerings, Chef Burke and his team have added new online goods, such as branded merchandise including mugs and reusable tote bags bearing clever sayings like “Love is All You Knead”. Fans can now purchase Black & White cookies and have them shipped within the continental U.S.A. too, order online at www.dixieleebakerybydb.com.
The bakery joins Chef Burke’s collection of eight unique restaurants in New Jersey, while his restaurant empire of 20 restaurants spans the globe.
But Kelly’s military physical revealed he had “bad ears”, explained Van Dusen, and his enlistment was denied. As a way to contribute to the war effort he took a job at a war plant near New Yok City. His three brothers enlisted. Two returned and one was buried in France. Kelly was a good friend of the Slovenz family, the founders of Dixie Lee. According to family descendants, the bakery was named after Bing Crosby’s first wife, Dixie Lee, a popular actress, singer and dancer in her day.
“We live in a time where everything changes,” explained Burke about his customers’ affection for the bakery. “And this place hasn’t changed for almost 100 years. People have fond memories. It’s like stepping into your first house. It sparks comforting and delicious memories. I never expected this kind of loyalty, but we’ve heard many other stories like Elsie’s. It’s been a weekly routine for some people’s lives for decades. It’s a good thing when I can take an institution like Dixie Lee or the Fromagerie – which is Red Horse now, or Piero’s, now THE GOAT – and breathe new life into these businesses. It creates jobs, puts smiles on people’s faces and brings a sense of pride into their community and gives people a sense of place. It’s an unexpected reward for me. There’s some exciting growth happening in Keansburg and the whole Bayshore area and I’m happy to be a part of that.”
Owning a bakery has been a lifelong dream for Burke, who trained as a pastry chef at the prestigious École Lenôtre Pastry School in Plaisir, France. Throughout his career, and today at his 16 award-winning restaurants worldwide, desserts play a pivotal role.
Burke has kept the bakery’s retail counter service and has made improvements to the baked goods and business, which sells traditional pastries, donuts, breads and cakes for all occasions. He uses the bakery to supply some of the baked goods to his restaurants too. He also plans to add a retail coffee business with counter service and grab-n-go breakfast and lunch items. Another future plan is to add baking classes at the bakery and social celebrations like birthdays that will include baking as a fun and educational activity.