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Cover Story - Posted June 23, 2017 9:31 a.m.
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Photos by Shannon Richardson

Working Their Buns Off

Amarillo’s homegrown burger joints may offer an endless variety of secret ingredients, special sauces, and other uniquely identifying factors. But a surprising number of them have one particular thing in common: the buns.

Rather than using mass-produced buns from a commercial bakery located elsewhere in the state – or across the country – restaurants like Blue Sky, Golden Light Cafe, OHMS Cafe & Bar, and a number of others rely on buns baked every morning in Amarillo at Snowhite Bakery. Founded in 1959 in Sunset Center, Snowhite has been at its current location at 2801 Civic Circle for more than 50 years. It occupied a standalone structure before the current shopping strip – which now includes 575 Pizzeria and Circle N Appliance – was built alongside it.

This locally owned and operated business belongs to Marilyn Dalrymple, who manages the multi-generational bakery with her husband, Mike. Their son, Greg Johnson, is the primary baker. Greg’s young adult sons, Jonathan and Marcus, are also on staff. The family’s 10 employees produce more than 700 dozen burger buns a day for restaurants, along with hoagie rolls, parkerhouse rolls, slider buns, and full loaves of bread, some that they slice into thick Texas toast.

While Amarilloans may be familiar with the bakery’s light, fluffy buns, those two words don’t quite describe its notoriety in the community, where feelings toward Snowhite can be anything but fluffy. Over the past decade, Snowhite’s storefront and parking lot have reached near-legendary status in the neighborhood. Signs warn dinnertime patrons of 575 that cars parked in the Snowhite lot will be towed. A similarly assertive sign covers its entrance, informing potential customers they shouldn’t request anything other than bread, the bakery’s primary focus.


Snowhite’s corner is a separate property from the Civic Circle strip mall. It’s clear the bakery does not care for overflow parking from nearby businesses. But while the stark exterior sends one message, the warm, delicious-smelling family environment inside offers a different perspective.

“Baking is probably something I’ve done all my life,” says Marilyn, whose mother bought her a Wilton cake decorating book when she was a teenager growing up on a farm in Oklahoma. She smiles at the memory. “That’s how it started. I started baking cakes for family, decorating them. I was pretty much self-taught. From there I went to doing it for more people.”

Marilyn spent several years working as a secretary for an oil and gas company while baking on the side, until she opened a small cake decorating shop in Guymon, Oklahoma. In 1986, the family moved to Amarillo, where Mike took a job at the now-closed Amarillo Speed Print, just around the corner on Duniven Circle. “When we moved here, I still did cake decorating for friends and worked for a couple of the bakeries here,” Marilyn says. “One day I was driving by and noticed this [bakery] was for sale.” She approached Mike, who by that point had become a co-owner of the print shop. “Guess what’s for sale?” she asked.

By early 1996, the Dalrymples found themselves the brand-new owners of Snowhite Bakery. “I did a lot of cakes,” Marilyn says. “Wedding cakes and cookies. We did tons of cookies. We put a lot into it. We would just keep taking orders, and sometimes I was here all through the night. It was a lot of work but I enjoyed it.”

Not long after Marilyn took over the bakery, the manager of the local Western Sizzlin’ steakhouse asked if Snowhite would be willing to produce its beloved cheese rolls. The Dalrymples agreed, and like yeast rising through a batch of dough, word started to spread among local restaurateurs. “We’ve never solicited,” says Marilyn. “Every customer has just eaten somewhere else and had our bread. They come to us.”

As an employee wheels a cart of fresh-baked buns into an area designated for cooling before the buns get sliced, Mike chimes in. “They’ll say, ‘I want the bread Blue Sky has.’ People recognize it,” he says about the taste of Snowhite buns. “It’s very distinctive.”

The current restaurant customer list spans dozens of familiar names. Some are smaller operations in Amarillo and throughout the Panhandle, with owners who drop by every day to pick up buns. Others are large enough to warrant direct deliveries from Snowhite. Still others, like the Blue Sky locations in Amarillo, Lubbock and Abilene, receive their buns through a distribution arrangement with Ben E. Keith Co. Snowhite delivers enormous numbers of buns to Ben E. Keith four days a week.

A few feet away, the Dalrymple’s grandson, Marcus Johnson, a recent high school graduate, steers a 90-plus pound bowl of dough into a room with a huge table. After depositing the mass of dough onto the table’s flour-sprinkled surface, Marcus and three others begin hand-separating, weighing, and rounding sections of dough. “That’s about 40 dozen hamburger buns,” Marilyn explains, pointing to the work taking place on the table. An employee places each separated batch of dough in an automatic divider/rounder machine, which expertly portions it into a set of distinctive bun shapes. The crew has been at this since 5 a.m., and will produce buns until around 11 a.m. The bakery remains open for retail sales and pick-ups a couple hours after that, usually until 1 p.m.

While Marcus makes bread, his older brother, Jonathan, learns the business side of things from Mike Dalrymple. Mike keeps the books and manages the relationships with restaurants. “He keeps track of what we need to make for the next day,” Marilyn explains. Eight years ago, Snowhite shut down the cake decorating side of the business, abandoning all other baked goods in order to free up oven time for the expanding list of bread customers. “Anything else would require different oven temperatures,” she says. The need for ruthless efficiency means pies, cookies and any other kind of bread recipe – like sourdough – are no longer an option. Snowhite has become a lean operation dedicated to producing only various sizes and shapes of a single, mouthwatering product.

The recipe for its bread began with Snowhite’s original owners. But Marilyn says her son, Greg, has made himself the real secret ingredient. Greg was in high school when he first took a role at the bakery and has been fine-tuning the recipe ever since. “He taught himself,” Marilyn says. “He was still in school when we bought it, but he really does have a flair for this. We give him credit for the business being as good as it is. He does so well handling it, managing it, the whole works.”

Marilyn says one of the secrets to the taste of Snowhite buns is their lack of preservatives. “We don’t use any,” she says. Store-bought bread will last around two weeks, but fresh buns from the Dalrymple family need to be eaten within three days, at the most. “Or you can freeze it. Let it thaw naturally and they’re as good as the day you bought it,” she explains.

While the vast majority of the bakery’s products end up in the eager hands of restaurant patrons, the shop still sells to the public every day until the doors close around 1 p.m. “People don’t realize they can come in here and buy it,” says Marilyn, who says she loves showing off the bakery to customers. She points to a few bags of junior buns and slider-sized minis near the front counter. “We’re running out of room, but we have too many customers who walk in the door and buy these for a party or a cookout,” she says. “I’d hate to shut them out.”

Her loyalty to those customers and the community appears to contradict the blunt signage right outside the building. The public face of a bakery is one thing. The people behind it are another. How much should we judge a bakery by its cover?

by Jason Boyett

Jason is a journalist, copywriter, ghostwriter, and the author of more than a dozen books. His most recent is “12 World Religions: The Beliefs, Rituals, and Traditions of Humanity's Most Influential Faiths”, published by Zephyros Press. Learn more at jasonboyett.com.
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