Return smells sweet for bakery Owners struggled through 'nightmare' to rebuild after fire

September 09, 1998|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

Once again, the back room of the Catonsville Bakery & Delicatessen is alive with the sugary business of sweets. Sacks of flour line the walls, and nimble hands knead bowls of smooth dough until fruit-filled pinwheels and other pastries take shape.

Fourteen months after an electrical fire devastated the 50-year-old western Edmondson Avenue landmark, the bakery will reopen tomorrow.

The long road back -- marked by a bitter feud with insurance adjusters -- has taken a toll on the small bakery's owners. Still, they plan to post a bright flag bearing a 1970s smiley face outside to welcome customers, many of whom are commuters taking advantage of the location at Edmondson and Interstate 695.

"This has been the worst year of our lives," said Mary Brady, president and part owner. "One son declared bankruptcy, another had a foreclosure on a house he rented, and my husband and I had to borrow on our insurance policies. You get so angry."

The bakery, a two-story white building, had been a mainstay for up to 500 customers daily before the fire.

Known for glazed doughnuts, eclairs with real custard and wedding cakes, it was purchased by Mary and her husband, Bob Brady Sr., in 1992. They saw it as a business their sons -- ages 32 and 30 -- could inherit one day.

Such determination sustained them emotionally in the aftermath of the fire, Mary Brady said. And it has helped the family work through a frustrating maze of bureaucracy with Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., its insurers in Hartford, Conn.

"The day of the fire, I just was numb. There were 100 things running through my head, but I just couldn't talk," said Mary Brady, who met her husband while they worked in a bakery in the 1960s. "Since then, you just sit for hours -- I don't know how long. My husband, he went out in the yard to work."

The Bradys had planned to reopen the Thanksgiving after the fire, but their plans were delayed by what they say was the "nightmare" of trying to rebuild. They spent the holidays scrimping together pocket change for groceries and holding creditors at bay, Mary Brady said.

The Bradys have hired a lawyer and are embroiled in the dispute over policy coverage with the insurance company, a matter that now includes the Maryland Insurance Administration.

The family says the company has paid for only a portion of the fire damage and business interruption costs, or lost wages.

Cynthia Michener, a Hartford spokeswoman, said yesterday the company has paid the Bradys $227,000 and the family is due another check for 20 percent more of its losses.

"We regret very much that the Bradys aren't happy with the handling of their claim," Michener said. "We believe, however, we have fully covered the claim under their policy. The amounts paid cover their losses in full."

The emotional roller coaster at times prompted the family to want to sell the gutted business, said older son, Bob Brady Jr. But in the end, the decision to reopen came down to finances.

"The only way to go was to reopen -- this was the only avenue we had and not be liable for the next 10 years for the debt," he said.

Bob Jr. said he doesn't know how many customers will return when the doors open at 6 a.m. He plans to offer free coffee.

His father, Bob Sr., 59, the co-owner who has been a baker all his life, said, "It was hard, but we never gave up. As you get older, you see that you're able to get through things easier. A lot of people have worse problems. I'm thankful that I've got two good kids, two grandchildren and have been married for 34 years."

Pub Date: 9/09/98

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