Helms Bakery

Helms Bakery wasn’t really a restaurant but it’s my website.  I can write about it here if I want to.

The Helms Bakery Building still stands on Venice Boulevard with much of its signage still intact…but inside, they bake no bread or cinnamon buns.  It’s a furniture mart in there now but once upon a time beginning when Paul Helms founded the business in 1931, they made bread and sugar cookies and rolls and cupcakes and all the things that great bakeries bake.  Then nice men would load them into their Helms Bakery Trucks and drive about surrounding neighborhoods, selling them to housewives and kids.

If you wanted the Helms Man to stop at your residence, you had to, first of all, put the Helms placard up in your front window…although a good Helms Man knew his territory, knew that certain homes expected him whether they had the sign up or not.  He’d pull up in front and blow his distinctive whistle and you’d scurry out to his truck and buy stuff. Inside the truck, he had drawers full of cookies and donuts and rolls and I think they even carried milk and butter, though at somewhat higher prices than the nearby Safeway Market.

When I was very young, you could often find me waiting outside our home for the Helms Man.  We had a rough idea of when he’d get to our street and I’d go play out front, keeping an eye out for the guy.  When he approached, it was very exciting and I’d run in and get my mother.  She’d buy a loaf of bread and maybe some rolls and always at least a cookie for me.  Actually, the first thing our Helms Man would do when we stepped up inside his truck to make our purchases was to hand me a free cookie, usually one of their terrific sugar cookies.

Once, I got to go inside the plant thanks to an L.A. City School District program of field trips.  We all piled into buses which drove us over to Culver City for a tour.  Upon arrival, we were marched through the place and shown how the bread was baked, how the cookies were mixed and formed on large conveyor belts…and you couldn’t help but love how great it smelled in there.  The aroma was heavenly and a whole lot better than the tuna cannery or the dairy we toured on other field trips.  On the way out, each student received a small loaf of bread and a little cardboard Helms Truck.

I’m not sure why the business model was as successful for as long as it was. As mentioned, the prices on the Helms Truck were always somewhat higher than buying roughly the same things at a Safeway or Von’s, and you’d have to go to one of those markets anyway to get the other things you needed. Why not get your bread and cookies at Von’s while you were there and save a few bucks? Whatever the reason was to opt for the trucks, it seems to have faded out by the late sixties. Maybe there were fewer mothers staying at home all day or something. Maybe the quality of baked goods at the markets had improved. Whatever the cause, the whole operation shut down in 1969 and I still remember the day its trucks made their last, melancholy rounds.  There was a real sense of loss when our Helms Man drove off, having sold us our rolls and sugar cookies for the last time.

The big building on Venice Boulevard sat vacant for a few years and rumors abounded as to what would become of it.  In 1972, it was acquired by a real estate firm that soon began its transformation into a complex of furniture dealers…and even a little jazz club called The Jazz Bakery.  Happily, as noted, they kept a lot of the old Helms Bakery decor intact and sometimes when you drive past it, you can almost imagine you’re smelling the sugar cookies, fresh out of those huge ovens.

164 Responses to Helms Bakery

  • Teresa says:

    We had Helms in Santa Maria. Loved that stuff!

  • Phil Ehrens says:

    Ah yes, the milk truck and Helm’s man… Nobody in Culver City ever wondered who robbed their house when they were on vacation! Such memories! I wish I had the guts to name the father of a friend who was a driver, and who financed his trips to the track by selling his booty to Hirsch at A-1 Pawn.

  • Lenita says:

    Oh the Adohr Milkman (Rhoda spelled backwards) and the helms man! What fun! We lived in Rolling Hills and enjoyed them both!

  • Sharon Hilliard says:

    To Sue Matthews Brummer. Any chance that you could email a pic of
    the Helms truck that you took at JW airport? WOW. Just went on line
    and it is soooo amazing how many people have such wonderful memories
    of the Helms bakery truck. We lived in Pasadena, but long ago moved to Colo.
    Thanks for sharing your memories. Such a wonderful, innocent time.
    Thanks Sharon Hilliard, Evergreen CO

  • Ralph says:

    Can’t forget those ‘butter’ colored trucks as they made their rounds in Wilmington. Much anticipation for those swing doors to open, long wooden drawers pulled out displaying those heavenly delights. Still can savour those cinnamon twists. Only possible in days of modesty and ‘stay-at-home moms’. We’ve come a long way and lost much?

  • From linda and helen says:

    Helen and myself would buy 2 cream puffs every day and then go and buy a coke in a bottle oooh what memories

  • Rebecca Schmitt says:

    I would love to see pictures of the dishes the helms truck had my Mother used to get them.

  • Thomas Maddux says:

    When I was a pre-school kid we lived on 58th near Main street in LA. The helms truck came by regularly. Sometimes my mom would buy me a cream puff from the refrigerated drawer behind the driver.

    To me they seemed huge. And “to die for” as the saying goes. I have always found those trucks interesting. You could drive them standing up or sitting down. I think they were made by an outfit called Fageol. Not sure about that though.


  • Thom says:

    I remember the Helm’s truck being more popular than the Ice Cream Truck. They had fresh donuts in the back. My Mom would by our bread. I was fascinated by the truck as a little boy!

  • Sue Mathews Brummer says:

    On Mothers Day of 2014 we went to an exhibit at the Lyon Air Museum at John Wayne Airport. There was a Helms Truck there!! It was SO cool to see. I took a bunch of pic’s if you want them. The guys with me were from the mid-west so it meant nothing to them….but wonderful flashbacks for me. Our samoyed, “Dutchess” knew that whistle and we’d let her run out to the truck. Our driver always had a piece of donut for her. My mom would send me out for a Jelly Roll (mmmm….) that the driver would put on her “tab”. We lived on Damask in Ladera Heights, so Poor Richards and the Witch Stand were favorites! Thanks for the memories!!

  • Nancy F says:

    Sorry tablet likes to think for me Lanto st. Bell Gardens Ca.
    Thanks for the memories

  • Nancy F says:

    I lived on Lanto St. in Bell Gardens, Vs. I remember my mom always stopping the Helms man I was quite small at the time but oh how I loved when I heard his whistle. My favorite was the Melba Cake mmmmm, I’ve not had anything like it again, and have searched for the recipe.
    I miss those days,of the Helms truck, the Good Humor man, there even was a fish man who delivered fresh fish….but those were gentler times, mom’s we’re home with their kids, and kids were kids….

  • Charles W says:

    I used to live on Parnell in WLA and in the 60’s myself and a few kids would catch a ride on the Helms truck to the next street. You would never do that now.

  • Chuck Haynes says:

    Every Tuesday lemon filled do-nuts. I remember the old Divco trucks and the whistle. I don’t understand how with more and more people jammed into LA that Helms went belly-up. Especially today with everyone buying online and having things delivered. The time might be right again for the milkman and Helms bakery.

  • Ruben Lopez says:

    We definitely had Helm’s trucks in Ventura County. I don’t know how they were stocked, but the one that covered our street in Oxnard was always filled with plenty of Helm’s goodness. So many good things but my favorite item was their brownie – I must have eaten dozens and dozens of them as a boy. They had a chocolate coating on them that made them special from others brownies. I sure wish I had that recipe!

  • Karen Seiberlich says:

    I grew up in Pasadena and remember the fabulous smell of the Helm’s bakery truck drawers. My allowance was 10 cents a month, and I spent that on the Helm’s macaroons – best ever! I remember the amazing cream puffs and glazed doughnuts, too. My mom would share bites of whatever she got with all 8 of us kids.

  • dan barnes says:

    Loved the Helms truck I think it was 6cents for a fresh glased and 3cents for a day old! I lived on Fay ave four blocks from Helms ave saw Helms Bakery every day

  • Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos (NM) says:

    Rick/John/All: Using Google Search using the Images tab, here’s lots of pics of the vehicles and “inner” details http://tinyurl.com/nlfj2fn. Say, ya might see your delivery man (albeit I stand to be corrected that maybe someone had a gal! LOL). Ya might even see a kinfolk therein! Sorry, no aroma comes through!!!

  • John Hindsill says:

    Brown? The coaches were yellow. The drawers were wood.

  • rick dudley says:

    This brings back so many happy thoughts of that brown truck coming around.

  • John Hindsill says:

    I would guess that individual Helms coaches did not travel from Los Angeles (Culver City adjacent) to Ventura. More likely goodies were trucked to a central distribution location in Ventura County whence the local Helmsman would load up for his route. This could have been economical, at least until door-to-door sales fell into disfavor.

  • Michael Gutierrez says:

    Did Helms bakery trucks go as far as Ventura county? I remember bakery trucks in Ventura when I was very young in the late 60s. I remember the distinctive whistle and my mom loved the cream puffs. If the trucks did go that far afield, I wonder how that was every cost-effective for them. Ventura is, what, 70 miles from what was their headquarters in Culver City?

  • Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos (NM) says:

    Yo Helen et al: if you Google Helms Bakery (HB) Recipes you will find a plethora of HB recipes to drool over!
    (As an aside regarding your ‘corn chip tacos’: IMHO, the best invention, besides the squeezable ketchup bottle, is the flat bottomed, taco shell for ‘stuffin’ and ‘servin’, e.g. (no endorsement implied) http://tinyurl.com/ork4re2

  • Helen says:

    We lived in San Diego in the early 60’s and the highlight of the week was the Helms Bakery Truck parking right outside of our door. Mom would always get bread and then choose a dessert. However what keeps this memory strong in our family’s mind are the recipe sheets the delivery man would hand out. Though a little worse for the wear our all-time fav was Corn Chip Tacos (served only for birthday dinners for my Dad and brother). Near as I can remember this sheet is about 53 years old. Thanks for the best childhood memory a person can have.

  • Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos (NM) says:

    Yearn to hear The Whistle?

  • Henry Szekely says:

    Early or late 70’s, I seem to recall buying baseball cards from the Helm’s truck as well. I have this vivid image of the truck in front of my house in Baldwin Park, and the driver pulling out a long row of baseball card packs.
    Good times, good times.

  • Debbie says:

    I am trying to remember a bread that was round and sliced. It was whole grain and dark in color. It was the best bread toasted with peanut butter. This bread was made in So. Cal. in the 60″s. Thank you please put me out of my misery been trying to remember this for years.

  • Gloria carroll says:

    I remember helmsman tooting in artesia & Lakewood as a kid. I seem to remember they sold cigarettes , they were on the door of truck when he open to pull out drawer ! Great days back then !

  • Sherrie Bobrosky says:

    The Helms truck came around early every morning just in time to get fresh jelly doughnuts and English muffins before going to school. As an eight year old, I vividly remember that it was a big step up for me to enter the truck from the street level. While inside waiting for those magical drawers to roll out, I remember a shiny wooden floor and the smell of fresh baked goods. Most special of all was my excitement selecting a doughnut and being able to purchase something all by myself … It was heaven at my door. I cannot even imagine having such a convenient service nowadays. The thought that someone would drive down my block and sell me fresh baked goods could be such an addictive habit. It is amazing we didn’t have issues with obesity with such a convenient service…but then again money was tight, there was no super sizing of anything and we ate in moderation.
    In second grade we got to go on a field trip to the bakery. I don’t remember much, other than getting a cardboard Helms truck, a chocolate covered doughnut and a mini loaf of unsliced bread. We all thought it was the best field trip of our lives. A funny thing happened at the end of the school year when one of our classmates was retained to repeat second grade. Everyone thought he was SO lucky because he got to get another doughnut!

  • Diane says:

    Happy memories of the goodies in the Helms truck and of the trucks themselves!. The trucks in the Highland Park area of Los Angeles had double doors in back and would open to rows of shelves. Oh the anticipation!! Usually I would get the cream puff which was like no other I’ve ever had!! The outside was soft, not hard and crusty and the filling!Simply scrumptious! Our family’s budget was such that we would not get such treats a lot but when we did, they were greatly appreciated! How I wish I had the recipe for those incredible treats!

  • John Hindsill says:

    David, Helms has gone the way of the ice cream truck, the Watkins Man, the Fuller Brush Man, the venerable milk man and the house call physician. Not a viable business model in this century, but we’ll always have those memories.

  • David says:

    OMG!!! How incredible it would be if someone brought back the old Helms trucks that used to drive by the neighborhood with the best doughnuts, pastries, bread, etc. Wow!!!

  • Laurel A Butler says:

    They were down in Orange County too. Highlight of my day was that doughnut. Fresh made, great smell and at only a nickle, what more could an 8 year old want?

  • Caroline Holguin says:

    I was just asking someone the other day if they remembered the helms man truck,I was 5yrs old when they closed down so I must have been 3 to 4 years old when I remember them driving down Rodgers street in city terrace. I remember the man was so nice an friendly to all us kids on the block. That donut truck and those corner stores are such fond memories for me!

  • Phil A. says:

    Hello Readers,

    I found the answer to my own question. Wagner White of 5/23/2013 and a few others made comments about various Helm’s distribution centers
    scattered around LA, Long Beach and the SF valley.
    The much larger trucks would haul baked goods from the Culver City bakery to the distribution centers which then supplied the local drivers.

    Having said all of the above, I still wonder how many trips the driver had to make to his distribution center in order to restock.

    Thanks again,
    Phil Ankofski

  • Phil A. says:

    Hello Readers and fans of Helm’s Bakery,

    I have been doing some research on the Helm’s Bakery as I am going to include a Helm’s truck ( HO scale ) in my Woody’s SmorgasBurer diorama.
    It looks to me like the Helm’s trucks were too small to carry a full days supply
    of product for the one driver to sell.
    Question ; Does anyone know if the drivers were returning to the bakery
    multiple times for restocking. I could understand drivers doing this IF their routes were closer in to the Culver City bakery, but if their routes were out in Pasadena, El Monte, Torrance or Long Beach …… then what ?

    I am hoping folks like Mamta can shed some light on this issue for me.
    Phil Ankofski

  • Mamta says:

    Ah, yes! The milk truck and the Helms trucks I rebmemer them well. My father was among the first Helmsmen when Paul Helms, Sr. started up Helms Bakery during the depression. He remained Johnny Craig, the Alhambra Helms Man for over 29 years. During all my years of growing up, there was always a Helms truck in our driveway at night. On holiday breaks from school, I was allowed to go with my father to the bakery in Culver City at 4:30 a.m. to load up the truck for the day. Oooo, it smelled so good there and the people were so very nice. When we returned home for breakfast at about 7:00 a.m., I was ready to go back to bed and Daddy was getting ready to start his long day on the streets. It would make my heart swell if you were to create a Helms truck work.

  • greg says:

    My grandfather was a Helmsman (Herb) I will never forget staying over their house and being allowed to go to the bakery with him as he filled his truck, he always worried I would get hit by a truck as they drove pretty wildly through the bakery going out for their routes. OMG the smell of 1000’s of loaves of bread, 1000’s of fresh doughnuts. Everyone just loved their Helmsman, as did I for other reasons, I wonder if anyone had my gramps as their Helmsman. His route was north of Olympic to 3rd and east of LaCienega to Fairfax,

  • patty robedee says:

    Thank you for a great site- i remember the helms man and the good humor man in the late 50’s in pacoima,ca. san fernando valley- beachy ave. school
    thank you for the wonderful and fun yummy times !!!!!

  • George Gewehr says:

    I was telling my wife about the Helms truck and the Union ice man. I lived in south central L.A during the war.. WW2 for the younger peeps. I lived on Avalon Blvd. and 61st St. There was an alley that ran behind the court we lived in. The Helms man would come down the alley and stop in the back. He would walk through the court looking for the Helm signs our parents would put in the window. All of us kids would gather at the back of truck waiting to get his goodies he passed out. The union Ice man would deliver ice in the same manner. We had just an ice box as most of us did back then. Two jobs that went by the way side due to growth so called.

  • michele says:

    Oh ya! Those were the days. Memories of the sound of drawers! Wow! It shows to go ya what can make someone HAPPY! I wish I could remember our drivers name. He was like family. He would drive UP our street in the am, and down in the pm. This was an opportunity for my friend to hitch a ride one block, to my house in the morning and back home in the evening.

    We lived on Robinson St, between Temple and Beverly, one block easy of Hoover. (Just a few blocks from TOMMYS)

    What I would really like are some RECIPES! They had NUT CHEWS that was just wonderful! (I AM ALSO INTERESTED IN THE RECIPE FOR THE SWEET ROLLS L.A. SCHOOL DIST MADE AT VIRGIL JR HIGH)
    I am no longer in Calif and I miss L.A…..fyi, Google maps can give you a virtual tour of your old hoods. It helps with the regrets of not taking more pix. Love to all who share some of the childhood memories.

  • Molly H says:

    The Helms Man supplied the first doughnuts I had ever eaten in my life. We would go out to our driveway when he’d stop his van. He’d pull out those long drawers full of delicious doughnuts. There were 4 kids and mom and dad. So we bought quite a few. Even more when my grandparents were staying over. I miss those good old days. Wish we had the doughnut man here in Oklahoma where I now live. Such great service.

  • Skip Piper says:

    It’s as if my life-is flashing before me….There I was on Glendon Avenue in Venice (1933-36) waiting for the ice man. the water man, the ice cream man and the Helms Bakery man with his whistle. Thanks for the memories.

    P.S. I did have a paper Helms truck. I wonder whatever became of it.

  • Sam D says:

    I grew up in WLA where there were lots of kids in the neighborhood back then. In the 1950s our Helms Man was named Bill and he used to extend credit to all us kids. He kept a small clip board with records of each of our credit purchases. Everyone was supposed to settle up by a certain day, Friday I think. No one would dare stiff Bill on these mini debts because if you did he’d cut off your credit and embarrass you. Then, if you still didn’t pay up, he’d visit your home and talk to your parents and then you’d be in serious trouble. Moe, the Good Humor driver heard about Bill’s credit plan and he tried it but he wasn’t as sharp as Bill. He didn’t keep careful records and it didn’t work out for him.

    Just about every afternoon about 4 PM we’d anxiously await for Bill’s Helms truck to round the corner and head up our block. My favorites were the cream puffs and the Danish pastries, especially the bear claws.

    When I heard that the old Helms Bakery was going to be resurrected in a large section of the same building (without the delivery trucks) I got pretty excited. It’s under a partnership between Sherry Yard, former longtime executive pastry chef of Wolfgang Puck Restaurants, and Sang Yoon, chef and owner of Father’s Office and Lukshon. It will be opening soon. But alas, they’ve changed their original plan so much that now it sounds like the bakery will be secondary to the food and bar offerings.

  • Steve Willkomm says:

    Grew up in LA in the 60’s and 70’s. Helm’s had a facility in Eagle Rock. the trucks used to toot in Highland Park, Lincoln Heights, and Montecito Heights. I remember the kids would gather around a stopped truck to enjoy the smell released from the long drawers that were extended from the Helm’s van. Recently, I was surprised when I visited the shopping center with a Serfa’s in Culver City and saw the historic sign still on the building. Good smells in LA!

  • Alex Walker says:

    I remember my grandmother lived on Superba Street in Venice and often when I was there, I used to hear the distinctive whistle sound of the Helm’s trucks. I ran out and remember for only a dime I’d get this plate-sized, incredible cherry danish the guy would pick out of a long wooden drawer that must have been 6-feet long the way it looked to me as a kid. What incredible pastries they had! Sometimes I could weep for never again finding something that incredibly good tasting. Hard to tell if perhaps life itself was more vivid along with the tastes of things when in our youth, but it seems like nothing anymore is as high quality. With all the fast food crap there is in the world, I wish a place like this would make a comeback. Probably as dead as getting fresh milk at your door in the morning. Sometimes the world changes direction and never circles back. I barely remember a school field trip to the Helm’s Bakery – that’s something else you don’t see anymore, field trips.

  • Rene Milligan says:

    Was just looking for old restaurants on La Cienega…couldn’t remember Tail of the Cock…had many great date nights there. Also, the Helms man sure rang a bill. Our neighbor in Alhambra was an exec for them and our Helms man always came early…probably because the wife wanted the freshest. Great memories for those of us old enough to appreciate when things were simpler and fun. Thanks for the memories!

  • Irene says:

    Wow talk about going down memory lane. It’s nice reading about the different memories of our own personal Bake Man. I recall mine being Ozzie. He was a nice man. Always with a smile on his face. I remember the Chocolate Cake with pieces of walnuts all over it. Delicious. But my favorite was their High Top Apple Pie. That was the Best Pie ever. I wish there was a way to get the recipe. I’ve searched and searched with no luck whatsoever. By chance would anyone know if there are recipes available somewhere?

  • Alfred says:

    Well, I must have been about 6 years old and I had a bad day. So anyway I am crying and the Helms truck pulls up. The driver saw that I was crying and gave me a little wax bottle in the shape of a pop bottle. You would bite the top off and drink the sugared colored water inside it…I have never forgotten that memory! Thank you Helms…

  • Calendula says:

    Oh, the AROMA that wafted out of the back of the Helms Coach! The freshest bread, cookies, rolls, doughnuts. The waxy chocolate dipped yellow cake doughnuts were 15 cents, and I only received 10 cents on Saturdays after raking the small olive tree leaves off of the front yard. The Helms man was kind enough to suggest the candy drawer. He had wax skeleton heads filled with sticky kool-aid, or toothpicks that had been soaked in cinnamon oil for 5 cents and one cookie for 5 cents. There were premium cookies like iced brownies, and smaller cookies like shortbread and mini chocolate chips. I remember running outside in a wet bathing suit just to flag him down.

    What patient men these Helms men must have been to wait for housewives to back in the house for more money, and to wait for children to make up their minds on what treat to purchase.

    The wood work and shellac on the wire bottom drawers was sturdy and attractive. There was a wire rack inside the back door the held the little wax paper squares that bakery workers grab your treats with.

    Besides the Helms Coach and the Good Humor man (Turkey in the Straw!) The local dairies delivered, too….Adohr, Altadena, Mountain View. Anyone remember the glass bottles with the foil crimped lids? Your milk, cream,and half -and-half bottles were carried in wire baskets with wooden handles. The baskets were separated into four quandrants, so four quarts could stand upright and wait for you on your porch…..hopefully in the shade! But that was soooooo heavy! Some neighborhoods even had a meat guy, produce guy, or a seltzer guy!

    In 1963-4, the local dance lesson studio even sent an old man driver to pick up a load of tutu-clad little girls and take them to their tap and ballet lessons (shuffle, stomp!) NO parent would trust such a thing today!

    A previous post mentioned that Helms went out of business in 1969 due to the threat of having to go union. Another version that circulates is that it was simply too expensive to maintain the coaches, their gasoline, and payroll for the Helms men, opposed to the revenue that they generated. Cost defective.

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