George's Bakery changes owners

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NORTH BEND - Although he has been away from his roots for more than 30 years, Joe McKeown's East Coast accent still resonated as he explained why he and his partner, Kathleen Stokesbury, choose George's Bakery in North Bend as the place to practice what he was born to do.

"I was born a baker," McKeown said. "I like being able to stand back at the end of the day and see what I accomplished."

He and Stokesbury bought the bakery from Greg and Cornelia Cordova, and they took over operations last week.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, McKeown is a third-generation baker in a family full of them. Of his grandfather's eight children, only one didn't get into the baking business.

McKeown moved to Tacoma in 1970, but didn't get to run his own bakery until he oversaw the Greenwood Bakery in Seattle from 1983-88. Looking back on his experience there, McKeown said it made him sad he never really made a connection with the neighborhood in which it was located.

"We seemed to be a better wholesale bakery," McKeown said. "We hadn't really connected to the community."

From 1990-2000, McKeown ran Frombachs Bakery in Seattle, and after taking some needed time off, he and Stokesbury looked around for a new setting. McKeown said they were drawn to the Valley by the same things that attracted other city dwellers prior to them.

"It's cleaner here, the air is cleaner, there is less hassle and we hope it's a little friendlier," McKeown said.

McKeown thinks he made the right choice. Since taking over the bakery from the Cordovas, he said the customers have been welcoming and generous.

He knows he can keep them coming back if he makes good bread, which he is certain he does. For example, his fruit break, some of which is made with ingredients such as pumpkin seeds, is heavy on fruit, not on starch, and McKeown said he finds the best ingredients for the price.

With the bakery's family-friendly atmosphere, he hopes to draw locals and tourists alike to try fresh bread, sandwiches and pastry desserts.

He said he has inherited a good bakery with a good name and he wants to live up to the bakery's reputation.

"George's seems like a Valley legend, like the Dairy Freeze [Scott's Dairy Freeze]," McKeown said.

McKeown and Stokesbury are searching for a home in the Valley, and McKeown said they are looking forward to a long run of making bread of which the area can be proud.

Although he is far from his roots, he seems content to be doing what he loves.

"As W.C. Fields said, 'I'd rather be anywhere than Philadelphia,'" McKeown said.

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