Life is full of moments built on love—big ones, small ones, special occasions, and unforgettable memories. Helping create the magic and piece together the memory-making puzzle is a one-of-a-kind blessing that Bowling Green couple Dan and Sandy Riley have had the pleasure of living.
The Riley’s Bakery business has a 75-year history in Bowling Green and is recognized by generations of area families. The Riley’s personal passions for what they do are how they’ve touched thousands of lives over the decades.
The story begins with Dan’s parents, Bill and Katherine. Bill Riley had a baking degree from Berea College and learned to ration sugar at the Corbin, Ky., bakery he was working in when World War II came to the U.S. Bill and Katherine Riley had the opportunity to run a booming new bakery just off Fountain Square in downtown Bowling Green in 1943. Dan Riley spent his childhood working there.
“Dan grew up in the bakery here. He was nine when the family moved to town,” Sandy said. “Bill was the baker and Katherine was the sandwich-maker.”
Dan moved to Lexington by 1960 and was working in a Calvin jeans factory. He met Sandy in December 1962 through a mutual friend. They were married in 1963 and had several pit stops along their journey to Bowling Green—including Springfield and Beaver Dam.
By the mid 1960s, Bill Riley was having some health issues, but the bakery was growing. In 1968, Dan and Sandy visited Bowling Green on a weekend trip and soon realized they needed to come home and run the family business. The Riley’s expanded the bakery and built a brand new store at the current 31-W Bypass location with a grand re-opening in October 1970.
Dan and Sandy have three children—Shaun, Trish and John Austin. The next generation of the family continued their love for the bakery. Shaun Riley grew up working in the bakery since he was 15-years-old. Dan kept him busy rolling dough, running the pan washer, and frying and glazing the famous Riley donuts.
“I’d load my bike into the back of dad’s truck on Friday nights, then ride it home on Saturday after I was done working,” Shaun said.
The importance of family was evident in the Riley business and every customer knew. After a brief stint away, Shaun returned to the bakery over 20 years ago. Trish currently runs the Riley’s social media accounts.
While hearing Riley’s Bakery may instantly bring to mind tea cookies, blondie brownies, cream horns and cakes, the family dedicates time and commitment into the baked creations so many people have learned to crave over the past several decades.
There’s been a learning experience for how the bakery can function on a daily basis with the family responsibilities. Shaun and his team arrive between 4 and 5:30 a.m. weekday mornings to prep the kitchen for everyone’s favorite items to be available for sale by 7 a.m.
“It’s a good thing Shaun grew up in the bakery just like Dan did because people don’t always realize what it takes to get everything done,” Sandy said.
It’s like a production line with each step being taken at just the right time.
“It’s true. If you can’t take the heat, then get out of the kitchen,” Shaun said.
Every bakery customer has their favorite item, but the Riley family has their favorites too. Sandy adores the petit fours—so much that they used to be special-order only, but now they’re available daily. Shaun’s favorite is the cinnamon twist because of his fond memories of playing football as a kid and coming inside for a whole row of twists afterward.
Memories like these keep bringing generations of customers back into the store. Baking a wedding cake, making birthday cupcakes, and helping people create these memories is special.
“It brings joy to us. We’re glad to be considered part of everyone’s family,” Sandy said. “It makes them a part of ours, too.”
Dan and Sandy ran the bakery together for nearly fifty years before Dan was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. He’s still in good spirits despite no longer being able to visit the bakery daily. The couple learned a lot of life lessons together on their journey.
“Working together isn’t always easy. You have to have a strength to your love to work together,” Sandy said.
They passed the strength to the third generation of Riley’s who run the family business. The Riley’s Bakery tradition continues making special moments for families across southern Kentucky.