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Zoss The Swiss Baker Closing After 23 Years In Cleveland Heights

Barbara Zoss (left) helps a customer during a late morning in March. The bakery will close March 30. [Tony Ganzer / ideastream]
Barbara Zoss (left) helps a customer during a late morning in March. The bakery will close March 30.

The red and blue of a neon Open sign stands out well against the gray, rainy sky over Cleveland Heights on a recent weekday. Zoss, The Swiss Baker has called this home for 23 years, and things look to me just as they did almost exactly five years ago.

At that time, I had just started my new chapter in Cleveland, after working as a correspondent for Switzerland’s public broadcaster.

And when in a new place, it can help to find wisdom from people who can relate to our experience.

That’s what led me to Kurt and Barbara Zoss before. The reason I sought out the bakers Zoss again on this day is because they’ve decided to close this fixture of Cleveland Heights on March 30.

“I got over the years some problems with my legs, and I assume it’s going to be the hip, so to take care of that problem it’s going to take me out for months, so it’s time to close and take care,” Kurt says, his accent still with hints of Swiss German.

“And we always thought by the time we were 60 we might retire,” Barbara adds. “We met traveling, we want to travel, and then you know we have moms that are older, and to go visit family we haven’t seen in Switzerland for a long time. It all kind of comes together.”

Both will be 60-years-old by May.

Barbara’s family is from here, but she actually met Kurt during a trip to Mexico.

Earlier in life she had been a teacher in Los Angeles, and Kurt ended up moving there, too, getting a job with noted chef and baker Nancy Silverton in her La Brea Bakery.

They lived in Switzerland, in Zurich, for five years, and their children were born there.

But then they set up shop in Northeast Ohio, enduring years of early mornings and the pretty physical baker’s lifestyle: moving inventory, working with flours and other ingredients, etc.

They’ve made breads (sourdough is such a favorite, Kurt named their cat Sourdough), they’ve made giant pretzels (some plain and some with asiago cheese), they had scones, croissants, and much more.

And they’ve seen a lot of changes over the years in products, and people.

“It’s fun actually to see kids that used to come in become customers. That’s really sweet, I have to say. The other day, there was a 15-year-old who came in with her sister, and she almost started crying,” Barbara says with a laugh. “That just like broke my heart. It was just so sweet.”

Customers have increasingly gone to whole grains and good, fresh breads over the years, Barbara says, and things got easier once the bakers and customers spoke the same language.

“When we started we used a lot more Swiss names, and we changed that,” Barbara says laughing. “And I remember in the first couple of months somebody said, ‘I bought this bread last week, and it’s hard.’ And I said that’s a good thing, because it’s fresh, and it doesn’t have preservatives and oils in it. So that was a learning curve for people.”

When I spoke with the bakers Zoss five years ago one of their pieces of advice was to go out and see Northeast Ohio. Kurt said they liked to take the motor bike out and take in the scenery.  Soon they’ll have more time to see things, and they’ll be able to travel farther than just a few hours away--taking a week or two off is a luxury they look forward to enjoying.

But they may not be done baking all together.

“Down the line we might do something, more pastry, maybe not have our own shop, we don’t know,” Barbara says. “We’re too young to stop working, I think. We’re going to do something, just not this intense.”

Zoss, The Swiss Baker in Cleveland Heights is set to close March 30. They’re taking bread orders until Tuesday, 26 March.

Tony Ganzer has reported from Phoenix to Cairo, and was the host of 90.3's "All Things Considered." He was previously a correspondent with the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, covering issues like Swiss banks, Parliament, and refugees. He earned an M.A. in International Relations (University of Leicester); and a B.Sc. in Journalism (University of Idaho.) He speaks German, and a bit of French.