Harry J. Herman Sr., 85, founder of area Herman's Bakery business

November 02, 2003|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Harry J. Herman Sr., a Southeast Baltimore baker who expanded a corner Canton shop into a business with more than $2 million in annual sales, died of cancer Friday at the Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care in Towson. The Homeland resident was 85.

He was known for his variation on strawberry shortcake, in which he broke with custom and substituted a sweet yellow layer cake for traditional shortcake. His version caught on, as did his belief in bakery branches in neighborhoods -- and later shopping malls -- where he saw his customers moving. Mr. Herman was an active baker from age 12 until he was 80.

Born in Baltimore and raised above his father's store, called Harry's Bakery, at Fleet Street and Montford Avenue, he attended St. Elizabeth Parochial School and received a diploma from its commercial department.

Mr. Herman joined his father in 1938 and worked with him until 1958, when he decided to open his own store, Herman's Bakery, at Holabird Avenue near Merritt Boulevard in Dundalk. Some local bakers were skeptical about the move, which proved to be a sound business decision.

"The spot he chose was untested country for businesses," said his brother, Albert J. Herman of Baltimore. "He bought a truck and had an employee drive throughout the back alleys of Dundalk promoting sales back in the days when people only had one car and women were home all day. People got to know the shortcake that way."

Family members said Mr. Herman had a mind for numbers and could compute complicated interest rates on loans as easily as he could add a column of figures. If a recipe needed to be quadrupled, he would create the formula for the increased ingredients in his head.

"The Dundalk business was so successful he didn't have a vacation from 1958 until 1965," said his son, Harry J. Herman Jr., who followed his father into the business known today as Herman's Enterprises. "We had a ticket machine with 100 numbers, and there were times around a holiday that the machine would repeat itself. People stood in line an hour and would argue over their spot."

In 1974, as the Dundalk location was being battered by competition from regional shopping malls, Mr. Herman made a decision to locate at Golden Ring Mall. He later opened in other malls.

"They said my father had the Midas Touch in picking locations," his son said. "He also felt that to be a good baker, you had to be a chemist. He had the ability by taste to re-create something he'd eaten. He had an innate ability."

Mr. Herman was fond of hearth-baked, crusty European-style breads. He derided mass-produced loaves as being "electrocuted."

"He was generous within the family, but he was probably the most frugal person you could meet," said his grandson, John J. Coyle Jr. of Towson. "He didn't pamper himself and lived in a humble way. His one privilege was to own a Cadillac. He ... liked Eldorados and Fleetwoods. The vehicles were his way of treating himself."

In the early 1990s, he began investing in thoroughbred horses.

"It was one of his few passions other than baking, but he was never able to get a true winner," his son said.

Mr. Herman was a former president of the Baltimore Bakers Production Club and the Potomac States Bakers Association. He was a certified master baker.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, 5300 N. Charles St., where he was a member.

In addition to his son and brother, survivors include two daughters, Cassandra H. Coyle of Baltimore and Harriet Herman of Ellicott City; a sister, Helen Tarallo of Towson; seven other grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. His wife of 54 years, the former Sophia Marie Pastalow, died in 1994.

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