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Quality Baked Goods In the German Tradition Since 1930
4164 Barnett St., Mayfair, Philadelphia, PA 19135

Inquirer Article

For Mayfair bakery, 85 years of constancy, confections

By Jeff Gammage, Inquirer Staff Writer
POSTED: July 09, 2015
It is in the truest sense a family recipe, baked from ingredients of time, trial, and togetherness. Four generations. One business. One location.

Haegele's Bakery turned 85 years old on Tuesday, celebrating with 25-cent treats, balloons, and rose-and-carnation bunting, but also in remembrance of departed relatives, and in gratitude to customers who have loved and supported the business since the days of the Great Depression. "Happy birthday," called out Delores Daly, 80, stepping to the glass counter where she has shopped for decades. "I wouldn't go anywhere else." Master baker Richard Haegele, 83, born in a bedroom over the Northeast Philadelphia store, greeted people by name at the front door. His wife, Jean, worked the counter. Their son, Glen, 50, frosted a cake in the bake shop in back, while his wife, Cheryl, 48, served customers out front.Meanwhile, two of Glen and Cheryl's three sons, dressed in baker's whites, worked making butter cookies. It's rare for a business to endure for nearly a century. Half of all new U.S. businesses fail within five years. But the Haegele family has icing in its veins. Everything is made by hand, and bigger items are delivered when they need to be there. On his way to the church on his wedding day, Richard stopped to drop off a cake. "It's not working a job, it's a way of life," Cheryl said. On Tuesday a sign out front announced, "This door was opened for the first time 85 years ago on this very day. "Back then, the corner of Barnett and Erdrick Streets was an outpost, surrounded by fields and farms in the Mayfair section. There were no supermarkets. Provisions came from corner stores. The bakery was one of them, founded by immigrants who arrived with more dreams than money. August Haegele came from Germany in 1927, the idea of a bakery fresh in his mind. Helen Gildein, American-born but a resident of Hungary, came the same year, seeking to cement her citizenship. Both missed the green hills and forests of their homelands. They met by chance at a Fairmount Park hiking club. They wed on June 25, 1930, and opened the bakery 12 days later. The only money to stock the cash register was the change in their pockets. The American economy was in ruins then, the stock-market crash turning businesses bankrupt and families desperate. August and Helen survived by working 15-hour days and keeping the bakery open seven days a week. They earned a nickel however they could. One son, Erich, grew up to work for the telephone company while filling a regular shift at the bakery. Even now, at 81, he repairs machines and lends a hand at the busy holiday season. Richard made the bakery his lifetime commitment, propelled by a singular force: "Pride in what you're doing. "He and Jean raised children Linda and Glen, the latter the third-generation owner. Glen and Cheryl's three sons, Joshua, Aaron, and Elijah, all have roles. Stop in on a holiday or Friday evening, and three generations will be working side by side. The bake shop is an assembly line, each person dependent on the skill of the person behind and ahead. "It's held together because of family working together," Glen said. What does the bakery sell? Everything. Rum ring, bee cake, French apple cake, chocolate fudge cake, breads, rolls, muffins, all types of German specialities, and cookies in every size and flavor. "What about crumb cake? Do you have crumb cake?" a customer called over the counter Tuesday. They do. "We work until there is no more dough," said Aaron, 19, soon to be a college sophomore. Eli, 14, is excused from school when needed at the store, especially for doughnut day - also known as Fasnacht, for the fried doughnut traditionally served before the start of Lent. Cheryl, a former hospital trauma nurse, likes that her sons know the family history. That when they turn a hand crank, it's machinery that was part of the original shop. That they know the meaning of hard work. At break time, her sons sit on the same wooden bench used by their father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. Tough times for the bakery always have been tied to the economy. After the Depression came world war, and inflation ran rampant in the late 1960s and 1970s. Rising costs for sugar or eggs exert pressure. Mayfair is a working-class neighborhood, and when the national economy crashed in 2008, many local residents could not afford to buy. Some stopped by the store to apologize. Some weeks, Glen and Cheryl did not take home a paycheck. Today, the business is healthy and looking forward, an anchor amid change. The surrounding fields have long since been replaced by rowhouses. Customers still come for quality and conversation, only now it's often third- and fourth-generation shoppers who visit. On Tuesday, Kimberly Weitman, 26, stopped to buy a buttercream cake for her 91-year-old grandmother, who loves Haegele's Bakery. "It's one of a kind," she said. "Delicious."


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