By Janet Goetze
For the Hollywood Star News
When Kellie and Mike Snaadt bought the Helen Bernhard Bakery about five years ago from her parents, Richard and Mary Laufer, they acquired more than a business. For many of their customers, Helen Bernhard is a historical institution.
Some have grandmothers who always bought birthday cakes at the 90-year-old business. Some always purchase the dinner rolls for special occasions. Others love the doughnuts, which the Huffington Post has listed among the 21 best in the United States.
On a daily basis, customers line up for cakes, fresh bread and decorated cookies. The bakers produce 250 dozen potato rolls each day for Bollywood Theater, the Alberta Arts District restaurant, one of Helen Bernhard’s few wholesale customers.
While Portland’s younger bakeries often are coffee shops, Mike Snaadt said, Helen Bernhard continues to focus on the made-from-scratch baked goods that began coming out of the ovens in 1924.
Helen Bernhard, a pastor’s wife, started baking for family and friends in her home, which remains next to the bakery building at 1717 N.E. Broadway. Over time, the hobby grew into a business as the Bernhards expanded the house to accommodate the bakery.
Eventually, the bakery filled the house and the family moved a block away. In 1939, Helen Bernhard and her son, Ben, bought the properties next to the old family residence. They constructed the homey-looking cottage where customers enter through a wide front door, and the bakers and decorators work in a large room beyond the display cases. It’s filled with oversize bowls, a multitude of racks and two walk-in ovens.
The 75-year-old building was so well constructed and cared for that it required a new hardwood floor only last September when the Snaadts closed for a week — one of the few without a wedding cake scheduled — to have it installed. At the same time, they replaced one oven with another that holds an entire rack of cakes, offering greater baking efficiencies.
“With both ovens going last December,” said Mike Snaadt, “one guy could do 50 percent more work.”
“And we can have fresher product,” said Kellie Snaadt, whose parents, Richard and Mary Laufer, bought the bakery from David Bernhard, the founder’s grandson, in 1988.
Five generations of Bernhards have worked in the bakery, she said, and the Laufer family is moving into its third generation with the Snaadts’ daughters, Delaney, 13, and Clarissa, 10. They are learning to fold boxes, bag orders and play the violin and cello for customers on special occasions.
David’s widow, Muriel, and other Bernhard family members help out in the bakery during busy times, Kellie Snaadt said. Young employees who started as high school students often return from college to work during holidays and summers, she said.
On a regular basis, the Snaadts have about 25 employees, ranging in age from 16 to 70. The lead baker, Rob Fisher, has worked for both the Bernhards and the Laufer-Snaadts for 37 years, Kellie Snaadt said.
On the day before Thanksgiving, usually the busiest day of the year, all hands fill orders for a thousand dozen rolls and as many as 600 pies, Mike Snaadt estimated.
The entire month of December is busy, he said. Many customers order Helen Bernhard’s fruit cake, and producers of “Grimm” asked for the holiday specialty last year for an episode of the TV program, Kellie Snaadt said.
“I saw the lead actors eating it,” she said, seemingly dispelling the negative comments of people who have never had good fruit cake.
She never expected to return to the bakery, Kellie Snaadt said, although she worked there until graduating from Eastern Oregon University. After college, she worked for a veterinarian and was a nursing assistant with plans to enter nursing school before her first child was born.
Mike Snaadt, with business degrees from the University of Idaho and George Fox University, managed electrical businesses. A half-dozen years ago, he looked around for something different. His father-in-law asked him to work with him in the bakery for a year, then sold the business to the Snaadts.
When it comes to her favorite bakery treats, Kellie Snaadt named the brownies, the marionberry pie and the Derby chocolate pecan pie, baked seasonally for the Kentucky Derby.
Mike Snaadt couldn’t settle on one favorite treat. “We have about a thousand different items,” he said with a grin. “That’s why I’m going back to the gym.”