Margaret A. Brennan, 71, partner in Dorothea's Bread bakery in city

August 10, 2002|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Margaret A. Brennan, a former partner in Dorothea's Bread, a Canton bakery, died of a bacterial infection after surgery Tuesday at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. She was 71.

A resident of Pikesville for 35 years, Mrs. Brennan was born Margaret Lancaster and raised in Wellington, New Zealand, where she graduated from high school.

After her marriage in 1951 to John G. Brennan, she owned and operated a grocery store in Wellington, and later a bed and breakfast.

"I've seen her put a three-course dinner for 15 people on the table in 12 minutes. It was a remarkable feat. She had two speeds, full-ahead or dead-stop," said her husband, a retired professor of clinical psychology.

After moving to Baltimore from New Zealand in 1967, Mrs. Brennan held a variety of jobs. She owned a BP service station on Reisterstown Road, worked for King Waterproofing Co. and later managed the Barney Street Pub in South Baltimore. She also studied hotel administration and management at Essex Community College.

Joy Umansky became friends with Mrs. Brennan more than 30 years ago, when their children were growing up in Pikesville.

"We started a catering business, the British Tradition Catering Co., in the mid-1970s, and we catered English tea-type wedding receptions," said Mrs. Umansky.

"We needed a bakery to furnish our catering business with baked goods and were given the name of two girls in Westminster. They had lost their lease on the bakery and asked if we wanted to buy their name, `Dorothea's Breads,' good will, and recipes," she said.

So, with a $5,000 loan from Mrs. Umansky's husband, the two women found themselves in the bakery business in 1985.

"We were in our late 50s and the girls who had owned the business were in their 20s, and we didn't know what we were in for. It was a heck of a lot of work, and we had no social life," said Mrs. Umansky, laughing.

The bakery moved to a shop on South Wolfe Street and later to its present location in the 2200 block of Eastern Ave. The bakery once had been owned and operated by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski's family.

"In the beginning, we'd bake one day, and deliver the next," said Mrs. Umansky, who retired about 10 years ago. "We'd begin baking around 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. five days a week, taking off Saturdays and Sundays."

While Mrs. Brennan primarily concentrated on sales, her associate handled the baking.

"It was a good division of labor, and we enjoyed it very much," said Mrs. Umansky.

Their home-baked breads included a country loaf, sourdough, cinnamon apple raisin, apricot, cheddar cheese, herb cheese, seven-grain cracked wheat, caraway rye and oat brain.

Mrs. Brennan was partial to the bakery's sourdough bread, and, because she was a vegetarian, always combined generous pieces of bread with slices of juicy, ripe tomatoes.

"I'd see her demolish one of those sourdough loaves in the course of a day. It was her favorite," said Mr. Brennan.

They were later joined by Joseph Musselman, a New Orleans baker who is still with the business. He created the pastries that were delivered along with the breads to area restaurants, health food stores, gourmet shops, festivals and farmers' markets. The business later expanded to include outlets in Washington and Virginia.

"They built the business from 30 loaves a week to thousands," said Michelle "Shelly" Brennan, a daughter, who now operates the bakery.

"She was very determined and an incredible woman. She was full of energy and enthusiasm," said Michelle Brennan.

At her death, Mrs. Brennan was a consultant to the business and had not fully retired.

She also enjoyed traveling, Scottish dancing and table tennis.

There were no formal services.

In addition to her husband and daughter, she is survived by two other daughters, Patricia M. Brennan of Waterville, Maine, and Vicki D. Briggs of Hanover; a sister, Valda Swift of New Zealand; and five grandchildren.

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