Photo: American Society of Baking
BALTIMORE — John Paterakis, a Baltimore native who led H&S Bakery, the largest privately owned bakery, died Oct. 16 at Johns Hopkins Hospital from complications of myelodysplasia, a bone marrow disorder. He was 87 years old.
Born in 1929 in Baltimore, Mr. Paterakis was exposed at an early age to the baking business. His father, Isidore (Steve), and Harry Tsakalos (John’s brother-in-law) founded H&S Bakery in 1943. Soon after it opened, John began working at the bakery, making Italian bread by hand and baking it in an old brick flat-hearth oven. A single delivery truck was driven by Mr. Tsakalos and handled wholesale and home delivery service.
In 1946, the company expanded by purchasing Klime’s Bakery, which not only served as the company’s second baking location but also as the home of Steve, Kyriaki (John’s mother) and John Paterakis. The business had expanded to 14 employees and three trucks.
John Paterakis took charge of the business when his father died in 1953. Soon thereafter, H&S acquired an empty 5,000-square-foot building that had served as a bowling alley on Fleet Street in downtown Baltimore. It was in this building that H&S installed its first high-speed mixer and a revolving oven. As the business flourished, more modern equipment was purchased.
By that time, Mr. Paterakis recognized the retail baking industry nationwide was in a slow but inexorable decline. He broadened the company’s product line and landed an account at Food Fair, a local supermarket. Other accounts followed, buying from the bread, rolls, submarines and sweet goods baked by H&S. A major early customer was Harley’s, a chain of sandwich shops that bought its rolls exclusively from H&S.
The baking business grew steadily in the 1950s, swapping the Fleet Street bakery for a 12,000-square-foot land parcel on Bond Street, the location that formed the nucleus of a baking and distribution complex that grew steadily over the next several years. Development of this area presaged major development work Mr. Paterakis has done outside the baking industry in recent years.
Perhaps the most dramatic step in Mr. Paterakis’ career followed his 1965 acquisition of Athens Bakery. Mr. Paterakis automated the bun plant and then agreed to a “handshake” contract to bake for McDonald’s. Fueled by the McDonald’s relationship, the bun business (later renamed Northeast Foods) grew rapidly. A second automated roll plant was opened in Worcester, Mass., in 1971, and a third was opened in Edison, N.J., in 1975.
The company has continued to expand, steadily investing in technology to make production efficient and to ensure product consistency. During his career, Mr. Paterakis relied on two guiding principles as part of his management philosophy:
• control costs
• don’t ignore necessary capital expenditures
In September, H&S began construction on a $15 million project that will expand the company’s west building in the Fell’s Point community of Baltimore by 25,000 square feet. The project, which should be completed by the end of the year, will feature new equipment and upgrades.
Mr. Paterakis was part of the first class of inductees into the Baking Hall of Fame in 2007. Commenting on his passing, Robb MacKie, president and chief executive officer of the American Bakers Association, said Mr. Paterakis’ contributions to the baking industry were “legendary.”
“Mr. Paterakis was a towering figure in the baking industry, and it is with good reason he was one of the first inducted into the Baking Hall of Fame,” Mr. MacKie said. “His quiet spirit and tenacious drive built the largest family bakery in the country. He served with distinction as A.B.A. chairman, on the A.B.A. board for several decades and twice as chairman of the IBIE Committee. He also was a key supporter of the creation of the Grain Foods Foundation and ensuring it was focused on returning on its investors contributions and moving the needle in the marketplace.”
Beyond baking, Mr. Paterakis played a key role in development in the Harbor East area of Baltimore. H&S Properties Development Corp. was founded in 1995 and is still building in the area. A mixed-use development, to be named The Liberty after Mr. Paterakis’ late sister Liberty Tsakalos, recently broke ground in the area. It will be anchored by Whole Foods.
“John Paterakis Sr. dedicated himself to Baltimore, the city he loved,” said Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland. “As a visionary from humble beginnings, he grew his families’ bakery to one of the largest in the nation, all the while growing jobs and opportunity for his city. In the Greek tradition he held dear, he was unwavering in his commitment to his family.”
In a May 1996 interview with Milling & Baking News, Mr. Paterakis offered perspective on his reasons for investing in the community.
“I keep telling my boys, ‘You have to give something back to the community,’” he said.
Mr. Paterakis was active in industry affairs. He was a director of the American Bakers Association and a past chairman of the International Baking Industry Exposition.
Survivors include his wife, Roula Passon; four sons, Bill Paterakis, head of Northeast Foods, an H&S subsidiary; John J. Paterakis Jr., who heads sales; Chuck Paterakis, who is in charge of transportation and construction; and Steve Paterakis, who runs the Schmidt baking division; two daughters, Vanessa Paterakis Smith and Karen Paterakis Philippou; a sister, Despina Sfakianos; 19 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
A viewing is to be held Oct. 19 at the Masonic Temple in Hunt Valley from 2-8 p.m. Private funeral services will be Oct. 20.