Iconic Arlington Cake Box Bakery closes after 71 years in Arlington Heights

After more than seven decades, the iconic Arlington Cake Box Bakery in Arlington Heights has served its last chocolate chip coffee cake and Campbell Street Special.

The third-generation owners announced Monday that Sunday had been the last day for their mom-and-pop business after 71 years at two locations in the village.

"This is a happy ending," said Paul Gardner, who has run the bakery with his wife Karen for the last 20 years. "This is a 71-year-old business that's just run its course and it's time to move on to do something else. It was a wonderful 71 years. We just realized it was time."

Known for its coffee cakes, pastries, breads and other treats, Arlington Cake Box Bakery has served the last of its baked goods after 71 years in business in downtown Arlington Heights. Courtesy of Arlington Cake Box Bakery

The COVID-19 pandemic no doubt was a factor in the decision to close up shop, Gardner said. But he and his wife had also been looking for a buyer to take over the bakery for quite some time, with no luck. And their three daughters, now all grown up, have careers of their own and weren't interested in the bakery business, Gardner said.

Ultimately, the bakery's five-year lease at 1617 W. Campbell St. in the Westgate Park & Shop center was coming up for renewal and the Gardners decided not to. They're planning to auction off their bakery equipment next month.

"It's been a really rewarding experience, but it's a lot of work," said Gardner, referring to the long hours and physical labor at their 3,700-square-foot shop, where everything was made from scratch. "It's a vocation. It really is."

The famous Campbell Street Special coffee cake at Arlington Cake Box featured butter cream and custard mixed in with Swedish dough. Courtesy of Arlington Cake Box Bakery

Karen Gardner's grandparents, Walter and Wilma Aronson, opened the bakery in 1949 at the spot now home to Salsa 17 restaurant on Campbell near Vail Avenue in downtown Arlington Heights. Walter worked at his father's bakery in Chicago and brought those Swedish recipes with him to Arlington Heights.

The Aronsons' daughter Donna took over the business in 1978 and, with her husband Robert Bollmann, moved the bakery 12 blocks west to the Westgate strip center.

The Bollmanns' daughter is Karen Gardner, who has run the bakery with her husband Paul. They both grew up in Arlington Heights and are graduates of the former Arlington High School.

They thanked their loyal customers, who kept coming back for baked goods and sweet treats. Especially popular were the coffee cakes, like the one named for Campbell Street, featuring butter cream and custard mixed in with Swedish dough.

"You put the work in and you make a quality product and the people will show up," Paul Gardner said. "We had a loyal fan base. They always showed up. They were always there for us. The money was never an issue. Even during the pandemic, the support was amazing. (Arlington Heights and the surrounding area) is a great place to run a business."

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