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

  • Donna Friess says:

    Nobody is telling about the cream puffs in the top drawer out of the back of the truck!
    We went running in the late 40’s!!

  • Amy says:

    Wow, almost no one I know remembers the Helm’s Bakery truck.
    My last memory of it is 1967 or so, in Ventura, Ca.
    It used to come down the hill on our long street, Colina Vista, periodically tooting the horn, and my friends and I (around 10 years old at the time), would actually buy candy instead of bakery goods. Foot long wafer thin striped taffy!

  • Kris H. says:

    I remember they had cigarettes aboard. My mom, who smoked back then, would sit on the couch and wave to the Helm’s driver as I ran out to pay and pick up her menthol cigarettes. Geez that was a long time ago.

  • Dean C. Rowan says:

    My uncle worked there. When my elementary school class took a field trip in the ’60s, he came out to greet me.

  • Glenora Helfrich says:

    My mother worked there from 1955 for about 3 years. We lived on Helms Ave across Washington Blvd. I had the same field trip and got the little loaf of bread. How wonderful the memories.

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

    Apparently, the physical store is still ‘a work in progress’ at the Helms District Plaza. However, they have a Helms “vehicle” where the back kinda resembles the old days and which sells some yummies Thurs-Sun Noon to 4 https://helmsbakerydistrict.com/restaurants/helms-bakery/
    Doesn’t anyone live in the area to fill us in?

  • Gordon Preston says:

    What a great memory, the Helm’s trucks were the best! We would hear the bell and come running no mater where we were. My favorite was the jelly filled donuts for 6 cents each!

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

    Hi Eileen et al…
    Scroll down here https://tinyurl.com/ueu5fwg for several possibilities of recipes. As I was a student at USC from out-of-state at the time, I didn’t know of the tradition of the funny looking vehicles, with their funny-sounding whistles, with their yummies therein …LOL

    If anyone tries the recipes, please let us know what ya think – comparatively speaking!

  • Eileen says:

    Are any recipes available?
    Keep hearing about the delicious sugar cookies that children received as a special treat.

  • Felicia Thiel says:

    When I was in the second grade (Spring 1962), my class went on a field trip to Helms Bakery. We lived in Culver City and were used to seeing the Helms truck and buying things from it, but I was very excited to see the actual bakery where those delicious things were made. The day began wonderfully … we all loved the way the bakery smelled for about 30 minutes, then it began to get to us. By the time the tour was over, almost the entire class was nauseous from the smell and were barely hanging on to whatever they had eaten for breakfast. The folks at Helms gave us all little loaves of Helms white bread, which none of us even opened on the bus ride back to school. By the next day we were all back to craving Helms bakery items. I still remember how super-fresh the donuts were off of the Helms truck, especially the french twists, and those beautiful wood drawers they were stored in. I sure miss those old-fashioned kinds of things these days. Not so sure our modern world is actually better than the old. I’ll take old-fashioned instead of new-fangled any day of the week. Now I know how my parents & grandparents felt.

  • Dave Folck says:

    The chocolate covered brownies… First encountered them in West Covina in 1955 when I was 6. I’ll always remember the whistle the driver would blow. Loved those trucks they had–distinctive looking. Great donuts. The stuff that they sold was fantastic.

  • Stephen Boyd says:

    Excellent write-up on Helms, brings back a lot of memories. I actually worked at the main plant for about a year (1961) while attending Santa Monica City College. I just walked in to their personnel (HR) office and was on the job the next evening sorting the various bakery items the drivers didn’t sell for the day-old store. Helms was a good company to work for, college student friendly. We could eat anything we wanted during the breaks…yum.

  • Jeff Holtzman says:

    I started salivating the moment I saw the Helm’s trunk coming down the street. I can’t forget the driver pulling open the big drawers full of goodies. They had the finest cream puffs money could buy.

  • Dianne West says:

    Nobody makes jelly doughnuts (or chocolate ones) like the Helm’s bakery ones. I wish they were still around.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Comments