Helms Bakery

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.

61 Responses to Helms Bakery

  • Calendula says:

    Oh, the AROMA that wafted out of the back of the Helms Coach! The freshest bread, cookies, rolls, doughnuts. The waxy chocolate dipped yellow cake doughnuts were 15 cents, and I only received 10 cents on Saturdays after raking the small olive tree leaves off of the front yard. The Helms man was kind enough to suggest the candy drawer. He had wax skeleton heads filled with sticky kool-aid, or toothpicks that had been soaked in cinnamon oil for 5 cents and one cookie for 5 cents. There were premium cookies like iced brownies, and smaller cookies like shortbread and mini chocolate chips. I remember running outside in a wet bathing suit just to flag him down.

    What patient men these Helms men must have been to wait for housewives to back in the house for more money, and to wait for children to make up their minds on what treat to purchase.

    The wood work and shellac on the wire bottom drawers was sturdy and attractive. There was a wire rack inside the back door the held the little wax paper squares that bakery workers grab your treats with.

    Besides the Helms Coach and the Good Humor man (Turkey in the Straw!) The local dairies delivered, too….Adohr, Altadena, Mountain View. Anyone remember the glass bottles with the foil crimped lids? Your milk, cream,and half -and-half bottles were carried in wire baskets with wooden handles. The baskets were separated into four quandrants, so four quarts could stand upright and wait for you on your porch…..hopefully in the shade! But that was soooooo heavy! Some neighborhoods even had a meat guy, produce guy, or a seltzer guy!

    In 1963-4, the local dance lesson studio even sent an old man driver to pick up a load of tutu-clad little girls and take them to their tap and ballet lessons (shuffle, stomp!) NO parent would trust such a thing today!

    A previous post mentioned that Helms went out of business in 1969 due to the threat of having to go union. Another version that circulates is that it was simply too expensive to maintain the coaches, their gasoline, and payroll for the Helms men, opposed to the revenue that they generated. Cost defective.

  • Alfred says:

    Well, I must have been about 6 years old and I had a bad day. So anyway I am crying and the Helms truck pulls up. The driver saw that I was crying and gave me a little wax bottle in the shape of a pop bottle. You would bite the top off and drink the sugared colored water inside it…I have never forgotten that memory! Thank you Helms…

  • Irene says:

    Wow talk about going down memory lane. It’s nice reading about the different memories of our own personal Bake Man. I recall mine being Ozzie. He was a nice man. Always with a smile on his face. I remember the Chocolate Cake with pieces of walnuts all over it. Delicious. But my favorite was their High Top Apple Pie. That was the Best Pie ever. I wish there was a way to get the recipe. I’ve searched and searched with no luck whatsoever. By chance would anyone know if there are recipes available somewhere?

  • Rene Milligan says:

    Was just looking for old restaurants on La Cienega…couldn’t remember Tail of the Cock…had many great date nights there. Also, the Helms man sure rang a bill. Our neighbor in Alhambra was an exec for them and our Helms man always came early…probably because the wife wanted the freshest. Great memories for those of us old enough to appreciate when things were simpler and fun. Thanks for the memories!

  • Alex Walker says:

    I remember my grandmother lived on Superba Street in Venice and often when I was there, I used to hear the distinctive whistle sound of the Helm’s trucks. I ran out and remember for only a dime I’d get this plate-sized, incredible cherry danish the guy would pick out of a long wooden drawer that must have been 6-feet long the way it looked to me as a kid. What incredible pastries they had! Sometimes I could weep for never again finding something that incredibly good tasting. Hard to tell if perhaps life itself was more vivid along with the tastes of things when in our youth, but it seems like nothing anymore is as high quality. With all the fast food crap there is in the world, I wish a place like this would make a comeback. Probably as dead as getting fresh milk at your door in the morning. Sometimes the world changes direction and never circles back. I barely remember a school field trip to the Helm’s Bakery – that’s something else you don’t see anymore, field trips.

  • Steve Willkomm says:

    Grew up in LA in the 60′s and 70′s. Helm’s had a facility in Eagle Rock. the trucks used to toot in Highland Park, Lincoln Heights, and Montecito Heights. I remember the kids would gather around a stopped truck to enjoy the smell released from the long drawers that were extended from the Helm’s van. Recently, I was surprised when I visited the shopping center with a Serfa’s in Culver City and saw the historic sign still on the building. Good smells in LA!

  • Sam D says:

    I grew up in WLA where there were lots of kids in the neighborhood back then. In the 1950s our Helms Man was named Bill and he used to extend credit to all us kids. He kept a small clip board with records of each of our credit purchases. Everyone was supposed to settle up by a certain day, Friday I think. No one would dare stiff Bill on these mini debts because if you did he’d cut off your credit and embarrass you. Then, if you still didn’t pay up, he’d visit your home and talk to your parents and then you’d be in serious trouble. Moe, the Good Humor driver heard about Bill’s credit plan and he tried it but he wasn’t as sharp as Bill. He didn’t keep careful records and it didn’t work out for him.

    Just about every afternoon about 4 PM we’d anxiously await for Bill’s Helms truck to round the corner and head up our block. My favorites were the cream puffs and the Danish pastries, especially the bear claws.

    When I heard that the old Helms Bakery was going to be resurrected in a large section of the same building (without the delivery trucks) I got pretty excited. It’s under a partnership between Sherry Yard, former longtime executive pastry chef of Wolfgang Puck Restaurants, and Sang Yoon, chef and owner of Father’s Office and Lukshon. It will be opening soon. But alas, they’ve changed their original plan so much that now it sounds like the bakery will be secondary to the food and bar offerings.

  • Skip Piper says:

    It’s as if my life-is flashing before me….There I was on Glendon Avenue in Venice (1933-36) waiting for the ice man. the water man, the ice cream man and the Helms Bakery man with his whistle. Thanks for the memories.

    P.S. I did have a paper Helms truck. I wonder whatever became of it.

  • Molly H says:

    The Helms Man supplied the first doughnuts I had ever eaten in my life. We would go out to our driveway when he’d stop his van. He’d pull out those long drawers full of delicious doughnuts. There were 4 kids and mom and dad. So we bought quite a few. Even more when my grandparents were staying over. I miss those good old days. Wish we had the doughnut man here in Oklahoma where I now live. Such great service.

  • michele says:

    Oh ya! Those were the days. Memories of the sound of drawers! Wow! It shows to go ya what can make someone HAPPY! I wish I could remember our drivers name. He was like family. He would drive UP our street in the am, and down in the pm. This was an opportunity for my friend to hitch a ride one block, to my house in the morning and back home in the evening.

    We lived on Robinson St, between Temple and Beverly, one block easy of Hoover. (Just a few blocks from TOMMYS)

    What I would really like are some RECIPES! They had NUT CHEWS that was just wonderful! (I AM ALSO INTERESTED IN THE RECIPE FOR THE SWEET ROLLS L.A. SCHOOL DIST MADE AT VIRGIL JR HIGH)
    I am no longer in Calif and I miss L.A…..fyi, Google maps can give you a virtual tour of your old hoods. It helps with the regrets of not taking more pix. Love to all who share some of the childhood memories.

  • George Gewehr says:

    I was telling my wife about the Helms truck and the Union ice man. I lived in south central L.A during the war.. WW2 for the younger peeps. I lived on Avalon Blvd. and 61st St. There was an alley that ran behind the court we lived in. The Helms man would come down the alley and stop in the back. He would walk through the court looking for the Helm signs our parents would put in the window. All of us kids would gather at the back of truck waiting to get his goodies he passed out. The union Ice man would deliver ice in the same manner. We had just an ice box as most of us did back then. Two jobs that went by the way side due to growth so called.

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