« What's your top Valentine's Day food gift? | Main | Shocking facts about Super Bowl food »

February 5, 2010

The death of an old-fashioned bakery




If you get a chance, stop by the New System Bakery & Cafe in Hampden before the snow arrives and say goodbye. It's closing for good today.

I asked one of the current owners, John Ruthke, why they were closing. (The people in the photo are the former owners, Grace and Bernie Breighner.)

"The economy," he said, "It's complicated. It was a bunch of factors. We're not making any money."

When I asked what was next, he said, "We're going to get jobs somewhere."

I'm really bummed by this news. Maybe other people wouldn't, but I put New System in the Baltimore landmark category. ...

I know it got new owners a decade ago. I know it moved from the Avenue. But still.

Every year when Gailor was growing up I would get her birthday cake there. (I made her first birthday cake and after that realized it wasn't worth the trouble.)

I think I still have in a kitchen drawer somewhere the little plastic figures of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs that came on a cake one year. They were her favorite.

I loved that place.

(photo of New System Bakery in 1992 by kenneth K. Lam/Sun photographer)
Posted by Elizabeth Large at 10:36 AM | | Comments (40)


I had a snow white cake too growing up :-) I never got over Muhly's closing (and the one at Lexington Market must just be using the name because it doesn't even come close). Herman's Bakery in Kenilworth was also a loss. This is really sad. It is hard to find a good old fashioned bakery anymore. There is one in Cranbrook shopping center, but it doesn't look very welcoming and I don't go in there. Guess we will all be heading to Costco or Walmart for our special occasion cakes :-(

I had planned on stopping in today for pre-snow treats for my office. Then I heard the news, and as I expected they were quite busy. The doughnuts I picked up are delicious.

Having worked for a business that closed last year due to the economy, I know it's cold comfort to hear how much people love you and what you do while you're running your last sales and wondering what comes next. I wish everyone at New System the best of luck on whatever comes next.

Hoehn's Bakery on Conkling and Gough st is an old fashioned family owned bakery.

I was so sad to hear this news this morning. I love New System Bakery. My husband buys me a cheese danish from there for breakfast every Saturday. I don't know what I'm going to do without my weekly cheese danish. I'll miss having a bakery so close to our house. Good luck to all the New System employees. You will be missed.

So sad... I am a Hampden gal and this was my hometown bakery. We loved the marshmallow filled donuts and coconut, chocolate squares.

@GMC. The bakery in Cranbrook is called Simon's. No, it doesn't look welcoming but don't let that fool you. The baker in there has been there forever and his cookies and donuts are to die for.

I tried New System and didn't like it. It was everything I didn't want in a bakery. There was nothing healthy, nothing fancy, nothing savory. It just seemed generic in an old-school sort of way, like an idea whose time had come and gone. I think old Hampden was supporting it, but new Hampden was at Common Ground, Rose's and Puffs and Pastries. I'm not saying any of those places are valid substitutes, but that's kind of my point. I got the feeling people were looking for something else.

I have lived in Owings Mills almost 5 years now and I have never heard of this place. Someone needs to publish a food lover's guide to Baltimore. I may not have made a special trip just for the bakery but I certainly would have gone there after my trips to the Wine Source.

Just stopped in. A couple of cakes and many cookies are left. It was a great place and will be missed.

Nothing healthy? It is a *bakery,* not the yoga and tea shop down the street. Bakeries shouldn't have healthy things. They should have tasty treats that you eat occasionally. Because that is what treats are - delicious things you eat a few times a year.

I'm sorry I never made it there. I do live near Hoehn's, and go there...occasionally. I love schmearkase

I didn't want to say it Lissa, but I agree! New System was everything that a bakery is supposed to be! They even branched out and offered a bigger selection at the Chestnut location. I really thought they'd last there with Rocket to Venus across the street and the stores expanding down from the Avenue.

What's important to consider is coupling the posts that said :

"an idea whose time had come and gone"


"Bakeries shouldn't have healthy things. They should have tasty treats that you eat occasionally"

A small business like this can't survive using the same old-fashioned model that counted on a lot of daily customers... special occasion customers aren't going to keep a bakery in business alone. And as was said, the erosion of even special occasion customers to Costco/Sam's or equivalent was another problem.

I love small bakeries like this as much as the next guy, but let's face it, our 21st century culture and eating habits aren't going to be able to sustain a 1950s enterprise.

Wasn't this just recommended to us on the CakeLove post, as a place for good cupcakes?

Fenwick's on Harford Road is still there. Lines out the door.

incunwhatsis is kidding, right? Goes to a bakery for healthy? LMAO.

i almost feel like passing a hat to try to keep new system around. it certainly was an institution. hadn't it been around a long time?

Who goes to a bakery for healthy food. Woodlea Bakery on Belair Rd. is still a good option in the city.

What a bummer! My husband and I got our wedding cake there about a year ago. Plain and simple but incredibly delicious - we got tons of compliments on it. I loved the 'old school' feel of the place. I'm very disappointed they won't be around to make our anniversary cakes :-(

Healthy is relative, but sometimes you want a bran muffin or a whole-grain bagel.

I wish Woodlea's Bakery was still the same... The quality of their items has went downhill, significantly. I *think* due to a change in ownership.

Dunkin Donuts is better than Woodlea Bakery.

I've been in the Hampden area for about 6 months and everytime I walked past this place it was closed? How are you going to make any money if you're only open when people are at work?

I have to agree with you in general New to Hampden. There are several businesses up here in the wild north of Baltimore Co, that are closed on holidays like Mothers Day, Fourth of July, Sundays, and so on.

I love that Starbucks (in Pikesville) is opened 365 days a year. I loved that Suburban House used to be too.

Sort of paraphrasing the movie line "if you're opened they will come".

I don't want to point the finger at any of our struggling small businesses, so I won't call them out by name, but I can tell you if want to stop at one place to pick up matzoh ball soup or deli for dinner, you'll be out of luck. They close at 4.

I live sown the street from Fenwick Bakery and I have never seen a line out the door. Their cookies suck and they don't bake cupcakes I was told, That being said, their
usual baked "goods" such as Danish's and such are pretty good. BTW I worked recently in Florida for Publix and found out most stores buy frozen or packaged parts and assemble their baked goods from them. I know MARS locally uses Sara Lee cake layers and frosting from a 5 gallon bucket!!
Perfect Captcha...........real taste

Best bacon, egg, and cheese on white sandwich in town - so sad. That was my go-to breakfast on the run spot.

Eve - yes that was me who suggested it on the post about CakeLove. I heard this on the radio today and immediately thought I better retract my recommendation!

This makes me so sad. I lived around the corner from New System and loved their cupcakes as well as their donuts (on occasion).

They were a classic old school bakery and I for one, will miss them.

I went here many times for breakfast, particularly on the weekends and I'm sad to see it go. But I will offer a few observations that are admittedly Monday Morning QBing.

- The place always had customers in it. Always. Yet it couldn't stay in business. This tells me it was mismanaged.

- There always seemed to be one or two too many people working behind the counter, and yet the people there often seemed rushed or confused.

- I would get the same thing practically every time for breakfast, but the person almost always tried to charge me a different price, sometimes lower, sometimes higher. After the third or fourth time I didn't say anything anymore and just took it in with amusement.

- A bakery, any bakery, needs a specialty. Something they do really well. Like Vaccaro's does with Cannolis. This place didn't really seem to have that. Overall a lot of the baked goods seemed kind of old school and unimaginative. I took it to simply be the local tastes of the neighborhood. But apparently it wasn't that either.

For that really, really special occasion, nothing tops Patisserie Poupon on Baltimore Street just east of the Fallsway. French owned and operated. Very expensive, but worth it for an Occasion. They sell a couple hundred bouche de Noel at Christmas, mostly by advance order. No breads any more, but wonderful fruit tarts and pastries.

Federal Hill Jim -- I just checked out the Patisserie Poupon website. Wow, everything looks heavenly!

Ninety-plus percent of "fresh baked" goods start out as frozen dough (literally unwrap and bake) or mixes. There's a reason those breads and cookies that look so pretty in the case often disappoint. Kind of yucky that my captcha is no hairnets.

I found it very interesting that bakeries - real honest baked in shop bakeries are alive, well and thriving in Lake Niagara. For a place that has tourist traffic for only like 4 months out of the year, the place has a bakery on every block.

I liked how many times they shared a front patio with outdoor tables with coffee shops. So, that you could get your fresh baked buns or these sort of calzone things that they seem to be very fond of for breakfast in the bakery, and then get fresh roasted fresh brewed coffee next door and take it all to a table to savor it all.

The neighborhood bakery just doesn't seem to have the support or importance here that it once had. I know my dad went to Silbers at least once a week if not more often back in the day. I really can't figure out what's changed.

GMC, I don't know where you live, but I highly recommend Woodlea Bakery on Belair Road, about halfway between Echodale and Moravia. It's still owned and operated by the Hergenroeder family. Everything they make is delicious! I know this reads like a shill, but it's not ... It's just that I've patronized Woodlea for decades, and its products are wonderful.

Outside of a few exceptions, I think the future for local bakeries is either to run an adjoining restaurant or to sell directly to the supermarkets. I don't see how the average bakery can make it by selling birthday cakes or sticky buns.

Although a lot of people talk about how they want to support mom and pop businesses, it's hard for many to pass up the conveniences that chains offer. With a Dunkin Donuts, Wegmans, Starbucks, Einstein Bagels, etc..., on every corner, it's tough for most people to make the conscious decision to wade through all of these stores in order to get to a New System for a muffin or cookie.

As much as we hate to see it, chains are pretty much taking over and leaving many independent operators out to dry. It reminds me of the (horrible but weirdly entertaining) futuristic movie "Demolition Man", where Sly Stallone is told that they're going out for a nice dinner at Taco Bell. "Taco Bell?" he asks, and is told that every restaurant is Taco Bell because they won the "Franchise Wars".

News on Woodlea Bakery - they have opened in Bel Air in the strip center with Liberatore's and the News Center - with Chili's in the parking lot.

We know one of the Hergenroeder's and last I heard, the bakery was still in the family, but run by the son and grandson of the original Hergenroeder. I've always thought their stuff was divine and will be visiting next weekend if the dogsled can get me there.

I blame cars.

When I go shopping, I grab my rollie thingie and my bags, and start walking. If I'm down in Highlandtown, say getting that wonderful Lebanese yogurt at the Highlandtown Market, it is only a block out of my way to go to Hoehn's for some schmearcase. Another block away is Chicken Rico, so I'll eat there before shopping because everyone knows you should shop hungary.

The library is right there, so I'll probably return a few books and maybe get a few more.

If there were a butcher in Highlandtown, I'd go there, too.

Compare this to how people with cars shop. They go to the big store that has everything so they only need to park once. While, in theory, they can get anywhere, few places are going to be good enough to convince them to go out of the way, and then probably only a few times a year.

I'm sad to see New System go. I loved walking down there to pick up excellent donuts. The sandwiches, both breakfast and lunch, were awfully good too. I will miss it.

At least there's still a great independent bakery in the neighborhood--Puffs and Pastries on 36th street...more new school than old school but well worth supporting. Everything I've tried there is just scrumptious.

I'm really sorry to hear this. I loved the New System's chocolate drops (yellow cupcakes dipped in a Berger's style chocolate fudge) and stopped by there when bicycling through Hampden or bringing my daughter home from school. I thought they had a good selection that included old-school pastries and some sandwiches. Very disappointing.

Catcha (like the New System): that impaled

For those that are fairly new to the New System Bakery it has closed a couple of times to be resurrected, so don't count it out...... yet. Two things led to new System's current demise, the first being it's forced move from 36th Street to Chestnut Ave where there is less foot traffic. The second thing being the expansion of grocery store bakery sections. The Super Fresh on 41st Street is a prime example, when the store was expander the bakery section was a major part of the expansion.

Today it seems that most people want one shopping, what a shame.

When we lived in Switzerland many years ago we had no car, so I traveled everywhere on foot or by tram. That pretty much meant shopping daily, or every other day, because all groceries got carried home in my little string shopping bag. Bonus: lots of exercise and very fresh food!

I agree that local retailers lose out on car driving customers who give in to convenience shopping. On another note, oh how I wish I could move to Switzerland...

Herman's Bakery is stiil in operation in Dundalk, Maryland. Family Owned & Operated since 1958 in Dundalk. The origional location opened in Highlandtown in 1923. Herman's website:

Famous for Strawberry Shortcakes, Fudgetop Cookies and marshmallow Donuts.

Herman's Bakery custom designs cakes for all your occasions and has expanded to catering.

Post a comment

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

Top Ten Tuesdays
Most Recent Comments
Baltimore Sun coverage
Restaurant news and reviews Recently reviewed
Browse photos and information of restaurants recently reviewed by The Baltimore Sun

Sign up for FREE text alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for dining text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Food & Drink newsletter
Need ideas for dinner tonight? A recommendation for the perfect red wine?'s Food & Drink newsletter is there to help.
See a sample | Sign up

Stay connected