Robaire's Bakery celebrates 60 years of business
Editor's Note: Upon publication, a name was spelled incorrectly. This story has been altered to display the correct spelling.
Dina Desormes looks out the front window of her bakery and eyes the bustling businesses across Mission Street. She remembers how the patch of land looked when she first came to Mount Pleasant in 1961.
“None of this was here; all of it looked different,” she said.
Imagine Mission Street without all the traffic or CMU less than half its current size.
Desormes remembers. It’s where she and her husband made their lives together after emigrating from France—it’s where she continues to satisfy Mount Pleasant’s sweet tooth at 83-years-old.
Robaire’s Bakery, best known for its donuts, cakes and fresh-baked bread, celebrates its 60th year of business this year. That’s plenty of time for Desmores’ story to be told over and over again.
However, the regulars can tell you everything you need to know about the woman behind the apron.
Desormes rises at 3:30 a.m. every morning and arrives at the shop around 4 a.m. For the next hour she’s prepping the shop for its 5 a.m. opening.
Right around then, the same group of people arrives almost every day—a mix of business owners, retirees, university employees among others. They don’t need to order their coffee; Desormes and the rest of the staff know how they take it.
“We know where to put our dishes when we’re finished. If someone’s busy in the back and a customer walks in, we’ll let them know,” Mount Pleasant local Larry King said. “Sometimes we’ll even help out … We’re just comfortable here.”
The early morning at Robaire’s is for people like King who have known Desormes and the rest of the staff for years. However, the Robaire's staff sees familiar faces all day long.
Desormes sometimes stays the whole 13 hours the bakery is open.
It seems like she could walk around the store, frost a cake or glaze a donut blindfolded but Desormes won’t tell you that herself. She speaks with a humble, gentle voice with hints of her French accent.
Desormes said Robaire, her late husband who the bakery was named after, had a little more volume.
The couple followed the rest of Desormes’ family to the U.S. after Robaire returned from the Algerian War.
The family had help from an American pilot, who was shot down in WWII and hid at her parent’s farm in Burgundy, France. That pilot was originally from Saginaw and sponsored the Desmores emigration in 1960.
When Robaire and Dina arrived in 1961, Robaire got a job at CMU as a baker until he opened his own business.
“He would come into work singing so loud, they probably got tired of him,” Desormes joked. “He was a happy man all the time.”
A smiling portrait of Robaire hangs above the counter next to a smaller photo of the young couple embracing.
Even after Robaire’s death Desormes never slowed down. But her employees are absolutely vital to the operation—especially after the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We definitely had to keep an eye out for (Dina),” Robaire’s employee Jessica Wiles said. “I tell all the (staff) even if you have the sniffles make sure you get tested and you’re not accidentally bringing it in here.”
Desormes' has staff that has been with her for decades and others that have only been there a few months. Wiles is on her third year.
“I’m usually here at 4:30 a.m. and (Dina) is here two hours before me—often times two hours after me,” Wiles said. “She’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever met.”
While Desormes will never admit it herself, Robaire’s 60-year run in Mount Pleasant commands a certain respect from other local businesses.
CMU alumnus and owner of Ignite Donuts Casey Croad is opening his own donut café later this month after years of working out of the university. He said Desmores' story inspires him to remain diligent with his own business.
“When I was a college student all I knew was Robaire’s; they were just the one-and-only,” Croad said. “I just think any entrepreneur or any small business that’s been a part of this community for so long and services so many facets of our community is obviously doing something right.”
Robaire’s wins awards for its food and service almost every year. In 2020 the store was a finalist in MLive’s Michigan’s Best Donut competition. This year they were voted best donut in town in CM Life’s “Best Of” contest.
Desormes appreciates the attention but shrugs it off.
To Desmores, retirement is "not in the vocabulary.”
Hanging above the dough mixers in the back kitchen are two maps, one of the United States and one of the whole world. Desormes said she keeps them there so when she meets travelers, she knows how far they’ve come to try her food.
It also serves as a reminder of how far she’s come in her journey as an immigrant and a small business owner.
In its 60 years of business, Desormes said Robaire’s has never made a perfect donut but it’s something she will always strive for.
“Something can be perfect in so many ways,” Desormes said. “It may be perfect to you and that’s all that matters.”