It’s 10 a.m. and Larry Faldyn, owner of Lukas Bakery in La Grange, is at the tail end of a ten-hour shift.
“Good morning, good evening, I’ve been here all night,” he says a shy smile. He has neatly combed salt-and-pepper hair with a matching mustache, and he’s wearing a short-sleeved plaid button-down shirt, a de facto uniform for him.
He’s been at the bakery since midnight, rolling out kolache dough, prepping tray after tray of icebox cookies, kneading bread, and hand-rolling pigs in a blanket (pigs, if you’re from the area; klobasniky, if you want to be technical). These signature sausages nestled in yeasty dough are Faldyn’s best-sellers.
From midnight to 5 a.m., it’s just Faldyn working. At 5 a.m., a coworker arrives to open the shop and serve the morning shift, usually men on their way to work at the local power plant. Faldyn works until about 11 a.m., then goes home, takes a nap, comes back at 3 p.m. to prep, then goes back home again to sleep, and wakes up at midnight to do it all over again the next day.
I ask him how long he’s been on this schedule. “Fifty years this March,” he says.
Fifty years of sixty-hour workweeks, night shifts, and exhausting holidays. Faldyn loves his work but he can’t fight time; he’s ready to retire and sell the bakery. But his retirement comes with a stipulation: “I won’t sell it to anyone unless it stays a bakery,” he says. And not just any bakery—a scratch bakery, just like it’s been for decades.
Keeping Lukas Bakery operating has been a labor of love, not just for Faldyn but for his predecessors as well. The changing of the guard has historically come abruptly—bakers pass on and the family scrambles to fill the void. Faldyn is trying to avoid all that by putting the word out there early in hopes of courting a passionate baker.
“I’m seventy, with fifty years of wear and tear,” Faldyn says. “The way things are going, something could happen to me and then there wouldn’t be no bakery.”
Faldyn fell into baking in the early 1970s, which is to say he fell in love. He met Carol Lukas while bull riding at a local rodeo. Faldyn soon found himself helping out around her family’s bakery. Shortly after they married, Carol’s father, Raymond Lukas, the original owner of Lukas Bakery, died, leaving the bakery’s future in flux. But Faldyn had been apprenticing and he loved the work. More important, he loved Carol. Faldyn assumed ownership and hasn’t looked back.
Love stories are key in Lukas Bakery’s lore. Family legend has it that Raymond met his wife, Lucille Kurio, when he baked a cake for a friend’s wedding. She took a bite, closed her eyes in ecstasy, and said she would marry whoever made that cake. True to her word, she married Raymond.
Raymond came from a long line of bakers in Little Rock—his uncle owned Koehler’s Bakery there. During World War II, Raymond was shipped to Camp Swift in Bastrop, where he baked for fellow troops and German prisoners of war.
When the war ended, Raymond needed work. The owners of the Hershey Bakery—operational since 1919 on the La Grange square—were looking to sell. Raymond stepped up to the plate, and Lukas Bakery was born in 1947.
Raymond sold wholesale bread and baked triple-tier cakes for social events, fruitcakes during the holidays, and fresh doughnuts every day, which his daughter, Carol, could never get enough of. During sleepovers, she and her friends would go to the bakery late at night to watch Raymond make the doughnuts fresh and eat them hot out of the fryer.
This habit didn’t change in Carol’s adulthood. She would wake up in the wee hours in search of the ultimate midnight snack. “She knew I was frying doughnuts,” Faldyn says. “She would get coffee, eat two, three hot doughnuts, then go back home and sleep.”
Faldyn stopped making doughnuts after Carol died on March 14, 2020. For Jaime Smith, the couple’s daughter, it was months before she could go back to the bakery. The memories were too painful. “I was just waiting to see her by the freezer and she’s not there,” Smith says.
But Faldyn continued operating the bakery, even as COVID spread. If anything, the bakery was busier than ever, which was a godsend for him. “I just had to keep going, keep my mind off it,” he says.
The family rallied around the bakery. Faldyn’s kids helped pick up the slack by decorating, filling orders, and working the front. His son-in-law took over the bookkeeping, previously one of Carol’s duties.
On the busiest days, Faldyn will sell anywhere from twenty to thirty dozen pigs and he typically works sixty- to seventy-hour weeks, more during holiday season. “I’m like a robot,” he jokes.
Smith and Faldyn both delight in showing me every little piece of history and story in the bakery’s kitchen. The first thing I spot are the photos of grandkids tacked to the cookie safe. Smith shows me the old table where Carol would do her decorations and prep work. In the center of the room is a long table Larry uses as his dough station. At the end of the table is the “old pig slicer,” a large metal contraption that preps the sausage and dough for hand-rolling.
They show me the bakery’s crowning glory—the old steel oven Raymond Lukas bought for $7,500 in 1947. “He paid more for that oven than he did for the whole building,” Faldyn laughs. And it was a good investment—that steel oven has stayed in use to this day. “Long as you grease the wheels, you’re good,” Faldyn says.
The weight of the decades settles like flour dust. Lukas isn’t just about delicious pastries—it’s about a legacy of baking. Just as all good things come to an end, Faldyn can’t bake forever.
For now, Lukas will stay Lukas. Faldyn will keep waking at midnight to make the best pigs and kolaches a couple bucks can buy. But he’s on the hunt for a protégé. “I’ll stay,” he says. “Teach them everything I know.”
more on texas bakeries
Watch Texas Country Reporter’s profile on the famous Slaton Bakery, located outside of Lubbock.