Baking controversy isn't for Paterakis

John Steadman

February 22, 1991|By John Steadman

Most of the time John Paterakis is content to be inconspicuous, moving quietly yet effectively through the business day. Having his name in the newspaper, or calling a press conference, isn't his cup of tea, or in this instance, loaf of bread.

All kinds of propositions come across his desk and it must take weeks to sort them out . . . those for rejection, the ones to talk about and the precious few he decides to pursue with intent. He's frequently mentioned as an important player in efforts to buy sports franchises but, to this point in his life, hasn't made a commitment to fun and games.

Still he listens and patiently endures the questions that each new report of Paterakis buying into this or that sports franchise creates. He has a mature outlook about what it all represents. The only way he would be interested is if he felt his presence meant a service was being rendered to his native city . . . dear ol' Baltimore.

Paterakis' major concern, every waking moment, day and night, is making sure the goods that come from H & S Bakery Inc. meet the quality level he personally demands. John is known as a "baker's baker," meaning the competition holds him in the highest of professional respect because of the prideful way he moved H & S to the forefront in volume of distribution.

But Paterakis delights in being just another face in the crowd and covets his privacy. It can't be denied that he's a man who responds to good causes, despite pressure from all kinds of varied interest groups, and does more than his part to lift his fellow man along life's troubled highways. That's John.

He produces a loaf of bread called the "Big John." But this is not symbolic since John doesn't believe he's so important he wants his name on a wrapper. Thousands of loaves of bread and rolls of all sizes and shapes come out of the ovens, around the clock, and are shipped near and far to restaurants and food stores.

But hold on. There's a situation pending that has become so serious it's hilarious. Two Baltimore businessmen, identified with different groups, Lou Grasmick and Ed Hale, are interested in having Paterakis on their side when bids are formulated for a National Football League expansion franchise.

Each one says John will play for their team, which means he'll have a loaf of bread in one arm and a football in the other, running down the center of the field. But, to this point, John apparently doesn't want the ball. He prefers a loaf of bread, which is understandable.

Hale tells the listening world Paterakis is with him. Grasmick insists he has Paterakis aligned with the Bart Starr investors. Imagine a pep rally outside the H & S Bakery on South Bond Street, with cheers filling the air of, "We Want Paterakis . . . We Want Paterakis." One witness aligned with Grasmick in the Starr ownership bid, Phyllis Brotman, says for the last year and a half, "Lou Grasmick has insisted John is going to be with us."

Paterakis, once the sports editor of the Patterson High School newspaper, would have trouble describing what is actually happening around him. There's Hale, figuratively speaking, pulling on one arm and Grasmick tugging on the other. It is starting to play out as an enjoyable sideshow to the frustration of the city losing Bob Tisch as a potential owner when he suddenly bought half of the New York Giants' Super Bowl team for "in excess of $70 million" and left Baltimore scurrying to find a replacement.

If Paterakis becomes a participant, he will, of course, be a valuable addition. Meanwhile, John, the master baker, is getting calls for his pumpernickel recipe and so far has kept it a secret between himself and the bake ovens.

He won't reveal a word about it. Grasmick, with his natural flamboyance, is hoping to hold a victory celebration. Paterakis hasn't made any public pronouncements. We endeavored to reach him by telephone and even called at his office for comment on the football ownership possibility -- to no avail.

No doubt, he's occupied with meetings and bakery decisions, the personification of a man on a roll but certainly not a hot dog.

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