When his parents considered closing Sunshine Bakery, Steven Kaplan quit his job as an engineer to keep its legacy alive.
On July 4, Sunshine Bakery will celebrate its 65th anniversary. The bakery has been at 1209 Broad St. since the beginning.
"Anyone that can stay in business is amazing, but keeping one going for so many years is really phenomenal," Kaplan said. "I believe we're more or less an icon. Of course, there's a lot of new people in the area that don't know us, but we're like a tradition in Augusta for many people."
His grandmother, Sarah Greenberg, started the bakery in 1946. She ran it for years with Kaplan's father, Dave Kaplan, and her other son, Erving Kaplan.
Steven Kaplan, who took the reins in 1991, spent his childhood at the bakery. As a young boy, he would try to reach the cash register to help his father.
"All through grammar school and high school, I would help out," he said.
Some employees have worked there for more than 50 years.
"My father was very special to be able to keep somebody working that long. We're very fortunate to have such good people," Kaplan said.
The business started as only a bakery with a few tables. Now, its menu includes soups, salads, sandwiches, baked goods and pastries. The bakery is open for breakfast and lunch.
Customers mail Sunshine Bakery products to friends and family in other states, Kaplan said. The Josephine, a Danish pastry filled with creamy custard and covered with chocolate and almonds, is one of its most popular desserts.
Ed Presnell has been eating at the "fixture on Broad Street" for years and is friends with Kaplan. His favorite menu items include the Josephine and Sunshine Tea.
"His business is a legacy business in Augusta. The food is out of this world. The commitment to service is unbelievable," Presnell said. "In that type of business, good quality employees and long-standing employees are critical, and he's been fortunate enough to have a good team. He's been able to find people who represent the Kaplan philosophy of business, and that's good service and a good product."
Kaplan is also civic-minded and a strong supporter of the military.
"He's very passionate about the future of Augusta. He's got a good vision for the future of Augusta," Presnell said. "He tries to help the community as much as a small business can. He's got a very good sense of parenting. His children are very smart and talented children. If he's your friend, he is your biggest cheerleader."
Kaplan's grandmother, Greenberg, lived in New York before moving to Georgia. Her first husband died when Kaplan's father was only 4. Years later, she remarried and moved to Augusta, where she opened Sunshine Bakery with her second husband, who was the baker.
The couple started having problems, and he left her with their two young children, taking all of the money and recipes with him. Greenberg asked her older sons, Kaplan's father and his brother, to move from New York to help with the bakery.
"The three of them ran the business for quite a number of years," Kaplan said. "She's an incredible woman. She was just very ingenious and was able to figure it all out. She was a great cook."
In addition to serving baked goods, she often prepared complimentary meals for bakery customers. Eventually, a customer insisted on paying her, and the restaurant was born.
"There's no meat in our soups. They're my grandmother's original recipes. They're all made from scratch," Kaplan said. "My grandmother was an incredible person. She raised a family during the Depression, so she learned how to cook, stretch things and make things work. Years ago, and even today, putting meat in something was expensive. She had to learn to cook without that."
In the mid-1960s, a fire burned their block of Broad Street, damaging Sunshine Bakery. It later survived the business exodus when shopping malls drew retail away from downtown.
"The bakery had no problem because we had such a loyal customer base," Kaplan said. "People would come to Augusta to see us and enjoy our food. It's really high quality, but a reasonable price. Some people come in and say it's similar to what they might get in New York City."
In the mid-1970s, Kaplan's father started running the bakery alone. Greenberg had stopped working there in the early '70s, and Erving became ill and died.
When his father's health began failing in 1991, Kaplan decided to take over the bakery. His father died in 2004.
Kaplan grew up in Augusta and graduated from Westside High School. After completing his studies in chemical engineering at Georgia Tech, he moved to California to work at Standard Oil. He has also worked at DuPont and Savannah River Site.
Over the years, Kaplan has learned to make his grandmother's dishes, but he doesn't consider himself a chef. He also had to learn the ropes in business.
"Studying engineering was different, but really not because the main thing I learned was how to get along with people, how to work with people. Having that background was really, really valuable when I came here," he said. "Working with people is a challenge in any case, no matter who you are and what kind of background you have. And working with family, I'm beginning to believe, that's one of the hardest things that can be done."
Another generation is following in his footsteps. Kaplan's daughter, Sarah, is working at the family business while she prepares to attend graduate school.
"It's fun to be in the family business and keep it running," she said. "I've seen it since I was a little girl, but actually being a part of it and helping with advertising or making everything look nice ... it's a fun experience. We work together as a team pretty well, I think."
Many patrons have asked Kaplan to open a second location, but so far he's content with one, he said.
Business of forgiveness
In 2003, Kaplan became co-owner of Positive Image Awareness Center Inc. on Shaw Street in Martinez, where he teaches "radical forgiveness."
"I've studied hypnotherapy. I like helping people to improve themselves," he said. "I really enjoy it because I can help people to use their potential and maybe begin to work toward inner peace and feeling better about themselves."
He believes many of the world's problems stem from people being so upset.
"The world is very much a reflection of who we are," Kaplan said.