After some 15 years in baking and 25 years in the produce-selling business, the owners of Johnson’s Farms on Highway 99 in Yuba City are retiring and passing on their store and recipes to another couple.

“In a way I hate to retire. I’ll miss the people,” said Dave Johnson as he leaned over the counter and watched customers peering into the bakery cases this past week. “To take care of things right, it requires being here seven days a week, 10 or more hours a day. I’m 67, Lee (his wife) is 65 and we decided it was time to slow down a bit.”

Dave and Lee Johnson are selling their store to melon growers Jeff and ChŽrie Stephens, who will reopen the business Feb. 1 as Stephens’ Produce, Bakery and Gifts.

The store name, they said, is about the only thing that will change. The business will continue to carry the same items as before including fruits, vegetables and pies made from the same family recipe. There will also be a few new additions such as hot soups and melons.

The couple currently owns the 37-year-old Stephens’ Melons on Garden Highway and Highway 99. They plan to close the fruit stand and sell the melons at their new location.

“It’s everything I love to do,” said ChŽrie Stephens, a former Yuba City High School history teacher. “I love to make jams, jellies, fudge, pies. It’s the culmination of everything I love to do. I’m just pinching myself that I get to do what for years I gave away as gifts.”

“I really honor our past,” she added. “People are going to walk into the past here with foods made without preservatives and made fresh daily.”

Since late September, the couple has been spending long hours at the store, learning the Johnsons’ recipe for pastries and jams, assisting customers, taking orders on the phone and helping the Johnsons bake 1,600 pies the day before Thanksgiving.

The store carries a variety of goods including produce, syrups, molasses, walnuts and jams. Their bakery section includes cookies, cakes, pies and different breads, all of which are homemade. Their most popular are the peach, strawberry and olallieberry – a cross between boysenberry and blackberry – pies.

They can sell anywhere from 30 to 200 pies a day. This time of year is particularly busy, with orders flooding in for pies; they will probably be making some 1,500 for Christmas, Dave Johnson said.

The Johnsons, who over the past two decades have watched children coming to their store mature into adults, said they will miss their patrons the most.

“We have customers who have been coming back for years and years and years,” said Dave Johnson. “We’ve made so many friends with so many people coming in.”

They never thought the business, which started out 25 years ago as a summer corner tomato stand and grew from there, would have flourished as it has today, he said.

Farming will continue to be a part of their life. The Johnsons and their son grow a number of crops, including peaches, nectarines, Fuji apples, walnuts and tomatoes. They plan to continue selling their peaches at the store.

With a little newfound free time on their hands, the Johnsons said they also plan to do a little traveling and visit family in Georgia and Arizona.

As she watched ChŽrie Stephens move about in the kitchen and Jeff Stephens take orders on the phone, Lee Johnson said she and her husband are pleased they are passing their recipes and store onto a couple who share their fondness of the business.

“We were ready and they were ready and it was just the right people,” Lee Johnson said of the business transfer. “We both understand the commitment that you as an owner put in (to running a business). You don’t come in and put in your hours, go home and forget about it.”

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