Iconic bakery sold to family with experience and enthusiasm
Rocking Horse Bakery in Winthrop will continue to be a family affair under new ownership that took over Jan. 1.
Husband-and-wife Mark and Carolyn Westerfield, valley residents since 2014, purchased the bakery from Steve and Teresa Mitchell. Son Christopher Westerfield and his wife, Tracy Jensen, will oversee daily operations at Rocking Horse. They moved to the valley from Portland in December.
The Westerfield clan brings what they estimate to be a combined 90 years of experience in the bakery and restaurant businesses. They have their own ideas about what to add to the Rocking Horse array of soups, salads, pizzas, breakfast sandwiches and pastries, which will become more evident over time.
Mark said he started coming to the valley on a deer hunting trip in 1971 — before the North Cascades Highway opened and before Westernization in Winthrop — “and I’ve been coming ever since. … I always wanted to move over here.” He even bought property in the Rendezvous but eventually had to sell it.
Mark has lived in various locations and been a saddle-maker, school principal and worked in restaurants, among other things. Carolyn owned a commercial artisan bakery in Portland that she sold in 2012 after spending several years getting it into sound financial condition. Christopher and Tracy worked at the bakery as well.
Mark and Carolyn had divorced many years ago, but reunited and remarried in 2013. They came to the Methow on vacation, started doing some house hunting and ended up with a home on Stud Horse Mountain. They have stayed engaged by volunteering for various nonprofits in the valley.
The Westerfields had initiated negotiations to buy another commercial property in Winthrop and got pretty far along in that process before it fell through. One day they were in Rocking Horse having coffee and came across an article in the Methow Valley News about the Mitchells putting the bakery on the market. They called the broker immediately and the purchase process began in earnest.
The sale includes the building, which is owned by the Mitchells and is also occupied by the Lariat Coffee Roasters retail store. Until recently, Mountain to River Realty also had space in the building but moved to the former Robin’s Egg Bleu building. Steve Mitchell said Lariat plans to expand into the former real estate office.
The Westerfields and Mitchells agreed that negotiations to reach a deal have been amiable. “We’re a good match,” Carolyn said. “We’ve never dealt with people who have been so gracious,” Mark said of the Mitchells.
Carolyn said taking over Rocking Horse “will be exciting and a lot of work.” Steve Mitchell pointed out that the Westerfields are coming aboard at one of the busiest times of the year for the bakery. The Westerfields said they intend to keep the energy level high at Rocking Horse.
Mark noted that “the businesses that are successful [in Winthrop] are very dynamic. … it’s a very vibrant environment.”
The Mitchells said earlier that they are looking toward their retirement years, but will continue living in the valley and will stay active.
“The business is at a good point, but it has so much more potential to get to the next level,” Steve said in an earlier interview.
While the bakery’s kitchen has always been in the same place, the Mitchells enlarged the coffee shop a couple of times. In 2014, they dramatically expanded into the eastern end of the building — formerly occupied by Fasse North Cascade Realty but historically significant as the Okanogan County Electric Co-op building — creating more space for seating and retailing.
For a while, the current Lariat space housed another Mitchell venture, Methow Masala, specializing in Teresa’s unique spice mixtures and other items. The spices are still sold in the bakery. The bakery has also been a showcase for local art.
Steve Mitchell noted that when he and Teresa bought the bakery from founders Dave Swenson and Meghan Sullivan in 2010, “we made a concerted effort to target the community … we wanted a year-round constituency.”
Carolyn Westerfield she always appreciated the retail side of the bakery business because of the contact with people. “The love you give back to customers is really rewarding,” she said.
“We’re eager to see what we can add,” Mark Westerfield concluded.