Helms Bakery wasn’t really a restaurant but it’s my website. I can write about it here if I want to.
The Helms Bakery Building still stands on Venice Boulevard with much of its signage still intact…but inside, they bake no bread or cinnamon buns. It’s a furniture mart in there now but once upon a time beginning when Paul Helms founded the business in 1931, they made bread and sugar cookies and rolls and cupcakes and all the things that great bakeries bake. Then nice men would load them into their Helms Bakery Trucks and drive about surrounding neighborhoods, selling them to housewives and kids.
If you wanted the Helms Man to stop at your residence, you had to, first of all, put the Helms placard up in your front window…although a good Helms Man knew his territory, knew that certain homes expected him whether they had the sign up or not. He’d pull up in front and blow his distinctive whistle and you’d scurry out to his truck and buy stuff. Inside the truck, he had drawers full of cookies and donuts and rolls and I think they even carried milk and butter, though at somewhat higher prices than the nearby Safeway Market.
When I was very young, you could often find me waiting outside our home for the Helms Man. We had a rough idea of when he’d get to our street and I’d go play out front, keeping an eye out for the guy. When he approached, it was very exciting and I’d run in and get my mother. She’d buy a loaf of bread and maybe some rolls and always at least a cookie for me. Actually, the first thing our Helms Man would do when we stepped up inside his truck to make our purchases was to hand me a free cookie, usually one of their terrific sugar cookies.
Once, I got to go inside the plant thanks to an L.A. City School District program of field trips. We all piled into buses which drove us over to Culver City for a tour. Upon arrival, we were marched through the place and shown how the bread was baked, how the cookies were mixed and formed on large conveyor belts…and you couldn’t help but love how great it smelled in there. The aroma was heavenly and a whole lot better than the tuna cannery or the dairy we toured on other field trips. On the way out, each student received a small loaf of bread and a little cardboard Helms Truck.
I’m not sure why the business model was as successful for as long as it was. As mentioned, the prices on the Helms Truck were always somewhat higher than buying roughly the same things at a Safeway or Von’s, and you’d have to go to one of those markets anyway to get the other things you needed. Why not get your bread and cookies at Von’s while you were there and save a few bucks? Whatever the reason was to opt for the trucks, it seems to have faded out by the late sixties. Maybe there were fewer mothers staying at home all day or something. Maybe the quality of baked goods at the markets had improved. Whatever the cause, the whole operation shut down in 1969 and I still remember the day its trucks made their last, melancholy rounds. There was a real sense of loss when our Helms Man drove off, having sold us our rolls and sugar cookies for the last time.
The big building on Venice Boulevard sat vacant for a few years and rumors abounded as to what would become of it. In 1972, it was acquired by a real estate firm that soon began its transformation into a complex of furniture dealers…and even a little jazz club called The Jazz Bakery. Happily, as noted, they kept a lot of the old Helms Bakery decor intact and sometimes when you drive past it, you can almost imagine you’re smelling the sugar cookies, fresh out of those huge ovens.