If you drive through downtown Tehachapi, you’re likely to come across many buildings and businesses of historical significance. More than 12,000 visitors pass through the Tehachapi Railroad Depot Museum each year without realizing that an equally interesting story is located just next door at Kohnen’s Country Bakery. Opened in 2004, the authentic German bakery continues traditions that date all the way back to 1683.
It was during that year that a baker in Vienna earned the European guild mark of lions defending and upholding the crown that most bakeries still use today. Unbeknownst to the sleeping citizens of the great city, the Turks had come up with a strategy to invade Vienna by tunneling under its walls during the night. But what they had not planned on was a baker at work in the basement of his shop preparing pretzels and bread for the coming day. It was the baker who heard the faint sounds of tunneling, warned the city and saved Vienna.
After the triumph, Vienna bakers were rewarded with extra rations of flour to bake what has since become one of the most popular pastries in the world — the croissant. It was this same baker who started to form the popular layered pastry into the crescent shape depicted even today on the Turkish flag. It is said the city celebrated its victory by devouring its enemy.
Thomas Kohnen, owner and baker of Kohnen’s Bakery, carries on the same traditions, recipes and practices today. Up well before dawn, it is Thomas and his staff who work through the night to prepare hundreds of baked goods from scratch each day. They knead, roll, toss and twist each pretzel, loaf and pastry into their iconic shapes while standing guard over Tehachapi.
He first learned these trades at the age of 15 when he took an apprenticeship as a Konditor (confectionist) at the Franz Bergendahl Bacherrei in his homeland of West Germany. After three years as an apprentice, he became a tested and proven journeyman. At the age of 22, Thomas was offered the opportunity to go on a training program in the United States and found himself in Ventura County where he met and married Colleen. Shortly after, they bought the famed Bill Baker Bakery in Ojai and operated it for 15 years before moving to Tehachapi.
If you get up early enough, just before dawn as the early trains are rumbling through Tehachapi, you’ll likely see Thomas taking his last break on the side deck of Kohnen’s. With a watchful eye, he and his crew welcome each day as they roll their baked goods out of the kitchen for staff to stock and prepare for the busy day ahead. Notice their logo next time you’re in and imagine all that has gone in to your flaky croissant and how different life might be if bakers weren’t standing guard all these years.