Hampden bakery goes, but will rise again

This Just In...

October 22, 1997|By DAN RODRICKS

I know what you're thinking: He's become the eulogist for small businesses in the city they call Baltimore. Monday's column reported the passing of Kelly & Poggi, the old drugstore and soda fountain in Little Italy.

Today, more blues, this time in Hampden: A "temporarily closed" sign hangs on the art-deco, cream-and-green front of New System Bakery on West 36th Street.

The place is empty and the phone has been disconnected. The landlord is negotiating to bring in another baker.

The baker who just moved out, David Knox, is a good-natured guy who took control of the old and popular bakery two years ago. As far as anyone knows, he was the first African-American to own a business on 36th Street. He seemed to get off to a good start, too. In addition to pies, cakes, cookies and buns for all seasons, Knox surprised his New System customers with a Southern-style broccoli cheese bread, which turned out to be one of the finest and most original bakery concoctions in Baltimore. It was a Knox family recipe. It was the best thing I ate in 1995. (You can look it up; TJI, Dec. 13, 1995).

But despite the popularity of the cheese bread, New System had problems. As the months went by, Knox was heard to complain about customer traffic slowing down. He's a very religious man who did not open on the Lord's Day, and that probably hurt customer flow. Some people think it was the death of his enterprise. "But I refused to be compromised on that," he said yesterday. "Believe me, I was under a lot of pressure [to open on Sundays]."

Among those who suggested a Sunday opening were the previous owners of New System. They were the holders of the mortgage on the place and, last Wednesday, they decided that Knox had missed too many payments. "I was four months' behind," he admitted. "But we were talking and I was hoping we could work something out. I I'm not holding anything against them. What happened was my fault. I tried my best, but I fell behind [during the winter of 1996] and it's really hard to catch up once you get behind like that."

Last spring, Knox opened a retail stand in the Avenue Market in West Baltimore, which is good news for the folks along Pennsylvania Avenue. Knox says he plans to make some of his cheese bread at home and sell it there.

Still, it'll be missed in Hampden. I feel sorry for the people working on John Waters' latest movie there; they won't get to walk down the street and sample squares of that broccoli cheese bread.

All is not lost. New System Bakery might rise again. (Get it? Rise again?)

It would be nice to see another baker and crew go into the locale. It would be nice to see them keep that art-deco, cream-and-green front, too. It would be nice to see them give nTC David Knox a job making the best thing I ate in 1995.

Making fun of Pfiesteria

I dunno, friends. I could be wrong. But with the Pfiesteria-related fish kills this summer in the Chesapeake region and public concerns about Maryland seafood, I think a restaurant should avoid the kind of advertising we spotted on a sign at an eatery last week on Wise Avenue, Dundalk: "Killer Crabs." Then again, perhaps we worry too much about this Pfies-fish biz. A woman dressed as the Goddess of Pfiesteria appeared over the weekend at the American Visionary Art Museum's Great Mother Goddess Pre-Millenium Sleepover. And now the Columbus Center is offering free admission to anyone willing to address the phenomenon with some Halloween humor. The center's "Many Faces of Pfiesteria Costume Contest" goes on Saturday and Sunday. Sign at a Westminster veterinary clinic: "Free exams for new puppies and kittens. But, bring newspapers." ('Cause it's good to have reading material in the waiting room.)

'Old-timey' feast

Joey Amalfitano, TJI cultural correspondent and official food taster, reports: "Let the buyer beware - is that 'Cadillac emperor' in Latin? - when they stroll into the Double T Diner on Pulaski Highway in White Marsh. Since it opened last May, Maxine and I have been amazed at the parking lot. It's always full. So we and another couple finally stopped in and we were shocked! For instance, I got a piece of blackened salmon, applesauce and coleslaw. Dan, I'm tellin' ya, my fish portion could have fed the entire cast of 'Les Miserables.' And it was flaky, no bones, delicious. Everyone else, including yours truly, got one of those Styrofoam containers to haul what we didn't eat home for the remainder of the week. It's a round-the-clock operation, like all the Double T's, with nearly 100 on staff. And even though they have a lot of chrome and glass, like my Aunt Margaret would've said, 'It's old-timey.'"

For a good cause

Between the raffle and fund-raiser they held last week for Jim Campagna, the Baltimore County correctional officer gravely ill with cancer, his buddies and co-workers raised about $15,000. A good chunk of that - $6,000 - came from a woman who read about Campagna's situation in TJI last Wednesday and wrote a check; she asked to remain anonymous. Channel 13's news operation picked up the story and, after the station aired the address for a special bank account in Campagna's name, contributions started going there as well. That address is: James M. Campagna Relief Fund, First National Bank of Maryland, 405 Washington Ave., Towson 21204.

Pub Date: 10/21/97

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