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Our Neighborhood October 30, 2008  RSS feed

OUR NEIGHBORHOOD THE WAY IT WAS

Some Warm Memories Of Neighborhood Bake Shops During The Depression Years
by the Old Timer

Reader Art Holmes submitted this photo of his parents, Katherine and Otto Holmes, waiting on a customer in their bakery on Knickerbocker Avenue at Woodbine Street in Ridgewood, Brooklyn. The Holmes Bakery operated at the location from about 1926 to 1949. Reader Art Holmes submitted this photo of his parents, Katherine and Otto Holmes, waiting on a customer in their bakery on Knickerbocker Avenue at Woodbine Street in Ridgewood, Brooklyn. The Holmes Bakery operated at the location from about 1926 to 1949. In the "Our Neighborhood" feature that appeared in the Oct. 2, 2008 issue of this newspaper, we presented an advertisement for Menninger's, the longtime Ridgewood bake shop that had operated at 56-50 Myrtle Ave. Originally, the ad had been published in the Dec. 22, 1949 issue of the Ridgewood Times.

Upon seeing the reprinted version, reader William Metzelaar of Ocala, Fla., a former resident of our neighborhood, sent us some comments via e-mail.

In his message, Mr. Metzelaar states: "I lived in Ridgewood from 1928 to 1960 and remember all those wonderful bake shops.

"On Forest Avenue, at the corner of Silver Street, was a bakery owned by Mr. Staiger. We lived across the street at 6832 Forest Avenue—a cold-water flat—and, of course, growing up during the early 1930s, we were poor.

Katherine Holmes is pictured with her son, Art, following his discharge from the U.S. Army Air Force in November 1945. They are standing outside the family's bakery on Knickerbocker Avenue. Katherine Holmes is pictured with her son, Art, following his discharge from the U.S. Army Air Force in November 1945. They are standing outside the family's bakery on Knickerbocker Avenue. "My father made $25 a week as a bank guard and my mother tried to save money as much as possible feeding four kids, herself and Pop. I remember after 7 p.m., if there was any cake left in Staiger's Bakery, Mom would give me a quarter and I'd run across the street. Mr. Staiger filled a big box of 'leftovers'—I remember one night, there were coffee rings, crumb buns, crumb cakes, pound cake, 'open' apple cake and chocolate eclairs.

"Another bakery was Rubenbauer's on Woodward Avenue, right around the corner. He was a little more expensive, but once in a while, Mom would treat us with one of his cream-filled streusel cakes. What memories!

"In 1940, we moved to Woodbine Street near Fresh Pond Road. On Madison Street was Knupker's. They specialized in 'open' fruit cakes, such as cherry, plum or peach, and they were delicious.

"Here in Ocala, Florida, no one makes those delicious cakes. The bread and rolls were the best. Imagine—a baker's dozen (13) of rolls for 60 cents! Of course, that was in 1940 and all products were very inexpensive then.

"I could go on and on, and name some other bakeries. It seemed there were German bakeries on almost every fifth block. Reisling's on Forest Avenue near Foxall Street; one on Fresh Pond Road near Menahan Street; Abner's on Myrtle Avenue; Menninger's, of course; and the famous Ebinger's in Brooklyn.

"I almost forgot to mention Rustmann's Bakery, a few blocks past Forest Avenue. Pop gave me a dime and said to get a loaf of 'stale' rye bread. The bakery was downstairs and they had leftovers in a bin. For a dime, I carried home a loaf of rye bread, unsliced, that was at least two feet long. I will never forget it!"

Old Timer's note—Over the years, we have found that among our readers who are former residents of the Ridgewood area when much of its population was of German descent, some things most missed involve the German delicatessans, bakeries and butcher shops.

Mr. Metzelaar mentioned Ebinger's, which was a Brooklyn chain that began on Flatbush Avenue in 1898 and grew to include many more locations, with the last closing its doors in 1972.

Some years ago, food critic Molly O'Neill (sister of New York Yankees star Paul O'Neill) observed in the New York Times that anybody who lived in Brooklyn lived close to an Ebinger's.

We wonder how many of our readers recall Ebinger's famous Blackout Cake.

In discussing various locations, Mr. Metzelaar listed some Ridgewood streets as they once were known. Today, Silver Street is 68th Road; Foxall Street is now 69th Avenue.

* * *

On the subject of family-run bakeries that existed during the era of the Great Depression, we have had the benefit of hearing from someone with first-hand experience. Art Holmes of Milanville, Pa., another former resident of our neighborhood who has submitted letters and photographs over the years, recalled what it was like growing up in a family that operated a local bakery.

In sharing his reminiscences in 2001, Mr. Holmes observed that in his area of Ridgewood, Brooklyn, there had been eight bakeries in operation—four of them on Knickerbocker Avenue. Of the four, the Holmes Bakery, which operated from about 1926 to 1949, was at Woodbine Street and Biegle's Bakery was at Decatur Street.

In the letter that originally was published as part of the "Our Neighborhood" feature that appeared in the April 26, 2001 issue of this newspaper, Mr. Holmes recalls:

"Walter Biegle and I both went to P.S. 106 on Wilson Avenue. Any time we had a class party, both of us provided all the cakes. We were never inclined to follow in our fathers' footsteps and become bakers. We saw first-hand the long hours and hard work that lay ahead. It was truly amazing how all these bakeries managed to survive the close competition and the Depression years. These were the times when buns and rolls sold four for five cents; chocolate layer cakes for 25 cents; butter cream layer cakes and whipped cream layer cakes were 35 cents.

"Shelf life for the baked goods was of short duration, since no preservatives were used. The stale rolls and bread were turned into bread crumbs while cake was turned into crumbs and the ever-popular spice cake. Nothing was wasted. Our bakery had a small luncheonette in the back of the store consisting of three tables and chairs for the customers. For 15 cents, we served coffee with two rolls with butter, or two buns and coffee for ten cents. This took place mostly in the mornings. At lunch time, the usual sandwiches that were prepared in the back kitchen were served. Many of the older customers would help themselves to the coffee and cake. We relied on the honor system when it came to paying.

"The store was open 6-1/2 days per week, from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays and 6 a.m. to noon on Sunday. Mom handled the store chores with Margaret Sweet, the store girl. Dad did all the baking with his helpers, Willie Heinz and Charlie Kramer. The majority of the smaller bakeries at that time had the ovens in the basement. In later years, the installation of ovens in the basement in new bakeries was not permitted. With the ovens in the basement, all of the baked goods were hoisted up to the store by way of the dumb waiter. In the early morning, the first to be brought up to the store were the rolls, bread and buns. Everything had to be hurriedly distributed to the counter and shelves since a line of customers was waiting at the door for their hot rolls.

"Between making the coffee, serving at the counter and tables, early mornings were rather hectic. At that hour, we relied on Arthur Godfrey for entertainment on the $9.95 Emerson radio. That little radio always worked beautifully, until I decided to clean out the bread crumbs in the back that had found their way from the bread slicer. It never sounded the same. It's amazing what other things bread crumbs were good for.

"I gradually got into the act of the early morning set-up and then would be relieved by Mom and Margaret at 7 a.m. After school, I would scrape and clean all the pans used in last night's baking, plus get the icing ready for tonight's work. Fresh apples had to be pared and cored. Those were the Depression years, when finding work and providing food for the table affected many families. The standing joke was that all the bakeries had plenty of dough. Every day we had people coming in looking for anything you could spare. As with the other bakeries, no one was ever turned away empty-handed."

Old Timer's note—Possibly, some of our readers will share their comments about their own favorite bake shops.

If you have any remembrances or comments that you would like to share with our readers, write to the Old Timer, c/o Times Newsweekly, P.O. Box 860299, Ridgewood, NY 11386-0299.

To send a submission via e-mail, our e-mail address is Old Timer@timesnewsweekly.com.