Thinking Back to Baker’s Bakery on W. 105th in Cleveland

Who doesn’t love a good bakery? When I’m on vacation, I love finding a pizza place, Italian restaurant, and a local bakery to remember the city by. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the be-all-end-all of bakeries, but it helps paint a long-lasting picture in my head of something to remember the city by as far as sweets go.

The gallery below demonstrates some of those delicious pastries: Villa Nueva on Orange Avenue on Coronado Island, which is just across the water from San Diego in California. I couldn’t resist their chocolate chip muffins. I can’t tell if the cookie place is still at Liberty Public Market, as it appears to have been taken over by a crepes place (which are usually great in their own right). The other pictures show Piroshky Piroshk, a Russian bakery at Pike Place Market in Seattle, Washington, a farmer’s market stand at Eola Park, Orlando, and Voodoo Donuts on East Colfax Avenue in Denver, Colorado. (Note: Each of the hyperlinks in the previous sentences are YouTube videos that I shot in the areas)

But what about bakery options in Cleveland, Ohio? One day, I’d love to sample more bakeries in the city and do a highlighted list of each one — but for now, I want to think back to the first bakery that I was cognizant of as a child: Baker’s Bakery on West 105th Street. I was a picky eater as a kid, so I think the only thing I’d eat from there was chocolate chip cookies that my mom would buy for my brother and I. My obsession when I entered the store was to play with the safe that was located to your left after you walked in, and spinning the big combination dial that was on the front of it. I have a vague vision in my head of what the store looked like, but sadly, I can’t find any pictures online of it, and they have been closed for many years.

That motivated me to do some research to see what I could find about the history of Baker’s Bakery, though, and I started with Facebook. Why Facebook? There are some historical groups where longtime Clevelanders sometimes reminisce on old memories. I didn’t find a lot of posts about it, but in one of them, everyone couldn’t stop raving about the date-and-nut cake, wishing they could have the recipe or know if anyone made a similar cake. Several people suggested trying Dick’s Bakery in Berea, OH or Elmwood Bakery in Lakewood, OH. After that, I searched the Plain Dealer archive, where it made sense why people like Dick’s and Elmwood: they are both related to the original owners!

History of Baker’s Bakery

Joseph Baker founded Baker’s Bakery on W. 105th Street in 1940, with credit to his mother, Amelia. She was an avid baker at home and used to send her eight children among the neighborhood to deliver baked goods. In Northeast Ohio, you can almost do a genealogy chart on the ties of how some of these bakeries came to be. Joseph had opened a second location in Lakewood, Ohio, which he sold to one of his sister, Florence, and her husband, August Vetter, in 1950. Their bakery was called Vetter’s, tying in some German roots.

A boy named Paul Kasper worked at Vetter’s, and later began dating Donna Vetter, who helped decorate cakes at the shop and was the daughter of Florence and August. Paul and Donna began dating, and married in 1962. They bought Vetter’s in 1969. Three years later, in 1972, Joseph Baker sold the W. 105th location to an outsider. Meanwhile, Vetter’s operated until 1982, when August passed away. Although Paul and Donna closed up the Lakewood location, they decided to buy back the original Baker’s Bakery and run shop at W. 105th again, still using the location’s original name.

Other Baker’s Bakery locations were opened at 14027 Puritas Avenue, 17230 Lorain Avenue, and 5773 Ridge Road (Parma). Baking used to begin at 11:00 PM at night, with deliveries to the branches going out around 6:00 AM. In 1989, they were baking 1,200 loaves of bread weekly, with a one-pound loaf of bread selling for $0.85. They also made cookies, pies, pastries, and cakes. And here is one crazy fact from Donna and Paul’s wedding in 1962:

The largest cake Donna and Paul Kasper ever created was for their own wedding in November, 1962. The 685-pound date-and-nut cake fed 600 guests, featuring a spouting fountain, caged love birds, and 18 tiny fingers representing an entire wedding party.

Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 1, 1989 – Page 62

Before Thanksgiving in 2004, they would be making 100 date-and-nut cakes per day. It is pretty crazy to read that the buttercream frosting for the cake used to take five hours to make, with no shortcuts involved. Donna and Paul lived upstairs from the business at W. 105th, so they and their staff were always busy. Unfortunately, the couple passed away in 2017 — although all of the Baker’s Bakery locations had closed shop well before that. I can’t find an exact year, but I feel like it may have been around 2011.

My mom could definitely attest to their date-and-nut cakes being bought for every big occasion, and she also raved about their cream puffs and chocolate chip cookies. A relative used to love their apricot danishes and cupcakes with maple icing — and also agreed that their date-and-nut cakes were one-of-a-kind . Over time, my mom would notice less pastries and cookies in the display cases, and asked a worker if they sold day-old products anywhere at a discount. The worker said no, but added that day-old products were donated to a local group.

Below are images from Google Maps of some of the Baker’s Bakery locations when they were still in existence (as for the fourth picture, I’ll touch on that later). I also walked by Baker’s Bakery in one of my winter video neighborhood walks here.

Living On With Dick’s Bakery & Elmwood Bakery

The ties to Baker’s Bakery don’t end there, though. Dick Baker and his wife, Bernadette, owned Dick’s Bakery in Berea, which opened in 1953. A few people on Facebook had said they heard that Dick and Joseph were brothers, and hence the date-and-nut cake recipe was the same. The recommendation checks out. At some point, the business was passed on to their sons, Richard and Andy Baker. As of October 2022, they have put Dick’s Bakery up for sale. However, they told Cleveland.com that the recipe for the date-and-nut cake would pass on to whoever buys the business — although Richard noted that he tweaked the recipe from his dad, adding buttermilk to it, for example. I would love to go out there soon and try some of their pastries — and I feel like I have to buy a date-and-nut cake for myself to experience, right?

The other tie-in is with Elmwood Bakery in Lakewood, which was operated by Donna Kasper’s sister, Joan, and her husband, Andrew Rerko. It appears that the business is now run by one of their son’s, Andy. Many years ago, I used to attend functions that would regularly have these cheese and fruit danishes that I came to crave. One time, I asked where they were from, and was told Elmwood Bakery. I always appreciate their holiday window when I pass by on my walks down Madison Avenue in Lakewood.

John Skrtic, who is a must-follow on Twitter or Instagram for how often he features local businesses, posted this about Elmwood Bakery in June 2021. As a user astutely remembered in the comments section, Elmwood Bakery was also featured in the movie “American Splendor,” which I plan on watching one day to do a visual comparison of what scenes were filmed in Cleveland.

There was one more tie-in to the family that I could find: Tony G’s Pizza and Bakery, formerly at 22055 Lorain Avenue in Fairview Park, opened in 2005. It was operated by Tony Glashauckas and his wife, Michelle, who married in 1992. Michelle was one of Donna and Paul Kasper’s daughters, and Tony reportedly gained his baking experience from Paul. If you look at an old Google Maps Street View picture of the Baker’s Bakery on W. 105th from the year 2015, you can make out a sign in the window that says, “Tony G’s Pizza & Bakery now carries Baker’s Bakery Date Nut Cake — Place your holiday orders,” along with the phone number and address to Fairview Park. From what I can tell, it was still in business in 2015, but then was closed by 2016, per Google Maps. It appears that he may have opened a place called Tony G’s Bakery & Cakes in Parma Heights in 2015, but it doesn’t seem to have lasted long.

The Recipe?

If you’re trying to make the cake yourself, a user on the blog Cook Loose did their best to mimic the recipe, based on his wife having loved the cakes growing up. When Baker’s Bakery was still in operation, he went there to buy a cake just for the sake of research, and he thinks he came pretty darn close to the real deal. You can check out the recipe here.

What About That Safe?

(Update: January 23, 2023) — I posted this article to a Facebook group that I am a member of, and Bob Prochko had an interesting story about the origin of the safe I remembered in the show room:

“My grandparents lived in the first house on the north side of Dale Avenue just behind Baker’s Bakery. In fact we have photos of the yard before the bakery was built. In the late 1950s someone broke in to the bakery through the back windows of the work area, and stole a large amount of money kept in the office. After that, the windows were barred and that safe was installed in the show room, with a spot light focused on it so that the police could see it clearly when driving by at night. At that time, Jimmy the Butcher, who had his shop in one of the storefronts now occupied by the softball league, installed a light over his back door, remnants of which are still in place.”

Bob said that the couple who bought his grandparent’s house in 1972 moved away “after the addition to the bakery cut off the light and air from their back yard.” That reminds me of something I forgot to include in the article originally, while I had been picking my mom’s brain. She said the original building was much smaller, and they later made significant additions to the building. If you go and look at Google Maps from the side angle, you can see just how big the building extends, as well as being two levels. Bob noted that the original design of Baker’s Bakery “won an architectural award for the best new construction in Cleveland of 1945 with its black Carrera Glass and sandstone storefront.”

Final Notes

I will try to update this article over time with any more nuggets that I find out about Baker’s Bakery, but feel free to leave your memories in the comments section below. One other topic that I’ll touch on is the current state of operating bakeries, with inflation taking a toll in 2022-2023. When I was in Salt Lake City last month, I came across story after story about bakeries closing: 1) A french bakery closing after 19 years, because the owner was working 7 days a week, 15 hours a day, since there was no staff applying for jobs; 2) Big O Doughnuts closed after 10 years, because they would have to charge $10 per donut to stay open due to rising costs; and 3) Brownies! Brownies! Brownies! closed after 4.5 years due to rising costs:

“Before COVID, we could get a case of eggs for about $15 to $18,” said owner Molly Kohrman. “The last time I bought eggs it was over $80,” she said. “Our flour used to be about $7 a bag, now It’s over $20. Sugar was about $15. It’s $30 to $40 a bag now.”

Then when I got back to Cleveland, I read that Fear’s Confections in Lakewood, which is located next door to Elmwood Bakery, is permanently closing after Valentine’s Day 2023. They’ve been in business for 13 years and are another place whose holiday windows and presence on Madison Avenue have been something I’ve appreciated over the years.

I miss not having a local bakery in my local neighborhood, but I still seek them out whenever I travel: like when I had lunch at Presti’s Bakery in Little Italy last year. I hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane.

References:

  • Hirschfeld, M. (1989, February 1). Baker’s bakers follow the long family tradition. Plain Dealer, The (Cleveland, OH), p. G1.
  • Perkins, O. (2004, November 24). Bakery feeds holiday tradition Keeping family business going is a piece of cake, and hard work. Plain Dealer, The (Cleveland, OH), p. B1.

2 thoughts on “Thinking Back to Baker’s Bakery on W. 105th in Cleveland

  • January 23, 2023 at 10:56 am
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    I remember Bakers Bakery, they did my wedding cake in 1958, but many caters used them. I think the original was the best at 105th. I lived in Parma and bought it from the one on Ridge. I loved the color and texture of the frosting — not a pure white, but almost ivory. Their date and nut was delicious.

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  • May 28, 2024 at 8:02 pm
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    Growing up in Cleveland, every baptism, communion, confirmation, graduation warranted a date and nut cake from Baker’s bakery. When my younger sister moved to Florida, we bought a date and nut cake, froze it and carried it on a plane to her! Baker’s date and nut cake is a childhood memory I don’t think I will ever forget.

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