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

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

    Wow Ryan V! Thanks for including the hot link to the Helms Bakery District plaza which was talked about here eons ago. Can’t image what that parking lot will look like once the “Helms Bakery” store itself comes on about at this already variegated shopping venue…Please keep us informed of when!
    In the meantime, you might want to check this whistle out https://tinyurl.com/yxz9zknd ; it is the first one I saw per a Google sale search. 
    Wow! Your Vieja’s Helm’s Original Recipe Brownies(aka CALIFORNIA “especial”…wink wink?) …OMG…will we be able to order some online?Congrats on your restoration of a Helms Coach.

  • Ryan Vanderhook says:

    Loved reading all the comments. I too, grew up in Lakewood in the 50’s and 60’s and remember our Helms man who’s name was Les. We must of had 50 kids on our block growing up. “Les” knew them all. I’ll never forget those long drawers of wonderful donuts, cream puffs and cookies. The taste and smell was incredible. I purchased a 1963 Helms panel truck from the family of a former Helmsman whose route was in North Long Beach. He lived in Bellflower. After Helms went out of business, he bought the truck and continued running his regular route until he retired. He then garaged the truck and sadly passed away in 2017. I was fortunate to be able to buy it in 2018 and completely restored it. Looks better than a new truck. Everything is beautiful. I took it to a car show last week for the first time out and it was voted the “peoples choice” of all the car owners who had brought their cars. I had more people come up and tell me their stories about their Helmsman. It was such a pleasure to show the “coach” (Paul Helms said trucks pick up garbage, coaches deliver bread”). It brought such great memories to a lot of people. I can’t wait to bring it back out again. The only issue I had was everybody wanted to know “Where’s the donuts?” My wife found a Helms brownie recipe at http://www.helmsbakerydistrict.com and will make some so I don’t show up again empty-handed.

  • Jim Tucker says:

    We lived down the street from the culver city one. at 6 i remember he would drive down our block and stop id jump up on the platform and get a candy necklace. My mom would buy breag and jelly donuts

  • James Broms says:

    Loved the jelly filled donuts from the Helms truck while growing up in Long Beach in the mid 60’s

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

    Our sympathies go out to you Cynthia for having such a Scamp/Groaner of a Dad. Can’t imagine what ya may have had to go though during your dating years! LOL At least he must’ve kept everything CLEAN!

  • Cynthia Gillen says:

    my grandparents owned the beacon laundry and Dry cleaners directly across from Helms Bakery .
    In his later years my father confided in me as to why the Famous Helms Bakery went out of business :
    “Too many Women were getting Bred in the streets ”
    Gotta love him
    his sense of humor goes unmatched

  • Paul Stewart says:

    We had them in Long Beach. Adohr Farms and Helms trucks were a part of the morning. Had no idea where they came from, but once we moved to Orange County, that perk was gone. The trucks were sold off and we continued to see them around for years, as that oversized station wagon was built like a tank. Had a friend that drove his up into the 1980s. Sure with the a little elbow grease they would run forever.

    Good memories

  • David C. says:

    One look at that truck and I can smell the doughnuts. I can also hear the distinctive whistle that signaled the truck was coming down the street! Thanks for the memory.

  • bob o says:

    Does anyone live close to check out what is going on here https://helmsbakerydistrict.com/restaurants/helms-bakery/ about a revitalization of Helms?

  • Jennifer Darling says:

    Al carrion of Alhambra posted The memories of the Gelns trucks, Alhambra in the 50’s-60’s had huge memories of what the true American life was. We had the best from A&W root beer , Little Joes in LA, the neighborhood of everyone was in the family.

  • Buck H says:

    I lived in Los Angeles in the 1960s as a kid, just a few blocks from Helms Bakery. I remember it well. And because you are correct when you note that it’s not a restaurant, allow me to pull up a relevant memory associated with Helms that does qualify. Right on the corner of Venice Blvd next to the bakery (to the east) was an independent fast food burger stand called Ike’s. If I remember correctly, Ike was an Asian man, and the place was staffed by him and his family. Food there was great, and cheap. There was only a counter that wrapped around the outside of the small stand to sit at and eat your food. At lunchtime or shift-change time, the stand would be jammed with people who worked next door at the Helms bakery. I would always get a double chili cheeseburger and fries. I don’t remember the price of the burger, except that it was cheap enough for a kid to buy. An order of fries was 20 cents, and you could get a half order of fries for a dime if you wanted. That’s what I’d do, because a half order was actually plenty big enough to go with a burger. I’d be full when I was done. I’m guessing Ike’s is also long gone. But man, those were the days!

  • Mary Ann Schmidt says:

    I loved Helms goodies. I would hear him coming and beg my mom to let me get my favorite. She would usually say no. But every once in awhile, she would indulge me. I would watch that refrigerated drawer open to reveal “cream puffs”!!
    I think there another Helms building near a onramp near Woodland Hills

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

    Yo Betty Ann and other HelmsAficionados…perhaps Y’all might explore this site https://helmsbakerydistrict.com/restaurants/helms-bakery/ about references to a “reopening?” Alas, the site doesn’t have a date of that reference, but the overall website does note 2018 at the bottom.
    In the meantime regarding some other Helms’ YumYums, ya might check recipes here: http://tinyurl.com/yacx5ff2
    Please keep us updated! Thanks.
    PS: In the meantime, please enjoy this tooting from a previous comment 3/24/16 if ya missed it.

  • Betty Ann says:

    The Helm’s glazed donut is unmatched by none when comparing the distinct glaze flavor and heavier dough substance to other modern day glazed donuts. Can the Helm’s recipe be purchased anywhere? If so I’d like to know! If not, well, the art of making a Helm’s donut is perhaps better left in past times; the generations today, don’t work physically hard enough to be eating them. The Boomer generation sure had the best of life especially when the Helm’s man blew his whistle and those drawers of perfect pastries hit the olfactory.

  • Sharon says:

    I know this is a long shot, but this is a great website and I am trying to locate someone. Unfortunately he is probably no longer alive, but his descendants may still be alive and in the area. He worked for the Helms Bakery during the years 1949 and 1950. He may have worked the previous years and subsequent years but was definitely at the bakery those years. All I know is his last name was Jones, he lives in the Culver City area and worked at the Helms Bakery. If anyone out there can help me I would be appreciative. Even if there is an old company directory. Thank you.

  • Sandra Pitts says:

    This is one of y favorite stories to tell. In the late 50’s I worked for
    Jack La lane in Hollywood, lovely man. Well he normally came in around 11:00. So the Helms. man came by every day around 10:00, break time. We were very conscience of this. If you think you knew Jack,well you’r correct. We didn’t dare get caught. We would get scolded at lunch time for bad choices.
    Most of the time we were able to slip in & out without getting caught, but once in awhile some of us did get nailed. When I think of The Helms man I always think of Jack.

  • Don S. says:

    The Helms story brings back wonderful memories. I lived in East Hollywood on Mariposa near Sunset and the Helms truck would come by our house in the later afternoon. I eagerly awaited the Helms truck and its whistle and the driver pulling out the wooden drawers for my favorite donut(s). I just found this website and will now look for two old restaurants/bars from my neighborhood – the Metropole and the Cameo Room on Sunset.

  • Melinda says:

    I can barely remember the Helms Truck as a kid (it was in it’s waning days) but still remember the sight of the drawers of donuts being pulled out. Also, the Helmsman statue shown on this postcard now resides at Burton Chace Park in Marina del Rey.

    Just discovered this website and am loving it.

  • Robert C. says:

    No company made a better glazed doughnut than Helms. That was a treat worth waiting for in the early hours of the morning. When the man opened that long drawer and you saw and smelled those delectable plump doughnuts you knew you were in for a treat

  • Greg Nolan says:

    when I was small, we lived in Brentwood. My favorite things from that wonderful truck were chocolate donuts. The memory is still with me.

  • al carreon says:

    Helms Bakery is one of those special treats that has become a timeless classic experience. I remember when the truck would come by and open its wooden drawers full of doughnuts. I could still smell and taste the experience as it once was. I lived in Alhambra at the time. For those that have these memories and many more. All I can say is we are Lucky and blessed to have lived in such a time we can appreciate so many years later.

  • Todd F. says:

    The Helms truck was even more wonderful for me as a childhood palace of sweetness than the Good Humor ice cream trucks, both of which wheeled through our neighborhood regularly. Helms’ glazed doughnuts and sugar-dusted jelly doughtnuts are still the standard by which I judge such delicacies today. Helms’ macaroons — chocolate-covered coconut — were also real standouts.

  • julie baughman says:

    I get tears whenever I see the old yellow panel trucks in a movie. It came down my street every day. He’d open up the back to reveal the beautiful wood paneling and drawers. I always got a jelly doughnut. I’m from Burbank and feel so blessed to have had them and all the others that regularly came by.

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

    Bienvenidos ‘susan in New Mexico’. Being ‘formerly Culver City’ did ya ever know Saffron Sharrie Williams circa early ’60s or eat at Woody’s Smorgasburger on Sepulveda ?
    Speaking of bread, have you had Green Chile Bread http://goldencrown.biz/wp/?p=217 yet? If ya ever go, be sure to get their “World Famous Chocolate Milkshake”!

  • susan in New Mexico and formerly Culver City says:

    Wow, Helms Bakery has a special place in my heart. I too went there on a field trip in elementary school and still remember the fragrance of the baking bread and the little loaf of bread and truck shaped cardboard box. The deep oak drawers always held cream puffs and all manner of treasures. Thankful that some others remember this gem of the past

  • KPS says:

    Our 1965 second grade glass embarked on a field trip to Helms. The tour was awesome. We all left with a diminutive wrapped loaf of bread along with a cardboard / folding Helms truck. I remember that night having the bread and watching “Ozzie and Harriet”… with some character named Wally at the soda counter…

  • Cindy Peterson says:

    I was born in Santa Monica in 1947 so basically grew up with the Helm’s Bakery Truck. My brother and I would run outside when we heard the truck coming so we could get our chocolate donut and cream puff. Such a wonderful childhood memory. We also took a field trip to the bakery. I still remember the fabulous smell of the baked goods.

  • Morley Helfand says:

    Can’t help but remember the delicious aroma and sugar-high realized when the driver opened the wooden drawers full of scrumptious cupcakes and the like. The fondest memory was our driver of truck #77 who would take me in his Helm’s vehicle from our cul-de-sac on Spring Oak Drive,Hollywood, to the top of the cul-de-sac across the canyon to Spring Oak Terrace so I could spend the afternoon with my best friend, Marshall. I did walk home though.

  • Ana M. Christopher (Ana Elizabeth Munoz) says:

    The “donut man” as we affectionately referred to him holds a special place in my heart. I lived on Kenmore and Santa Monica in Hollywood back in the 60’s. On Saturday mornings, I would raid my Dad’s closet for his loose change and race up the street screaming..”Hey, Donut Man”…and he’d wait. I couldn’t wait to watch him open up the glass drawers and pull out the jelly donuts, raspberry or lemon and get a cream puff for my sister, all for under fifty cents. Joy was complete at that moment. Thank you Helms for making my childhood, to this day so memorable and special! An extra special shout out to Chester and Tilly Haye’s on Kenmore who made all Easters and Christmas more than special by rallying all the kids in the neighborhood for either an amazing Easter egg hunt or Christmas caroling, with all those practices enticed by Tillies popcorn balls! OK, now I’m going down memory lane!

  • Lucinda Leong says:

    I recall the Helms truck driving up our street and all its offerings. In addition, we had an elementary school field trip to the bakery when we all received a free mini-loaf of either banana bread or white bread–can’t remember. Sigh…..

  • Patti ferguson says:

    I’m 68 and still remember the chocolate donuts they were the best. We always talk about the trucks and rolling trays.

  • Dorothy says:

    Will someone give me the rescipe for the chocolate hard shell coating
    on the Helm’s Brownie’s I hope someone brings them back

  • Mark J. Kiss says:

    Our Helms man was named Rudy and he was a part of my childhood. My parents had told him it was okay for me to get myself something whenever I wanted, and I usually opted for one of those great big frosted donuts! I also loved their creampuffs, but those were only for special occasions. We also had Rockview dairy come by and leave us milk and eggs. My parents would get me a quart of chocolate milk. I had great parents!

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

    Yo Al…Memories do come true. Check out http://tinyurl.com/hphj8cl It is supposedly on Ebay. It doesn’t say if the fruitcake is in the can, but if so and being a fruit cake, it should be “prime” eating by now…LOL!!! I’m no mission expert, but looks like Santa Barbara could be a match http://tinyurl.com/zpbjslt!

    RE LAUSD movies…maybe here http://tinyurl.com/jt345o3 ?

  • Monica says:

    Even now in my 60’s, I think about Helm’s bakery and their iconic trucks every now and then from when I was growing up in Los Angeles County. My favorite was the chocolate covered donuts, which cost one nickel. Yet, my stay-at-home mother always hesitated spending that nickel. In my small hands, the Helm’s chocolate donut seemed extra large, and tasted oh so good! I have found that the closest “duplicate” to that kind of donut is made my Entenmann’s. I, too, remember the school field trip to the bakery, and bringing home my small loaf of bread. I did not want to eat it, because I wanted to save my previous souvenir for as long as possible. And, when I finally opened up the package, the bread was too stale to eat. Every time I spot a converted Helm’s truck on the road, even living up here in Washington State, my mind drifts back to those wonderful childhood memories.

  • Al Donnelly says:

    An older comment mentioned fruit cake cans. One such can had a mission design printed on it, I believe Santa Barbara. The Helm ID was printed on the base. (Don’t have it anymore, but may help someone who’s looking.)
    A bit of help? I’ve long had a small Helms shoulder patch. We’re these actual uniform pieces or give-aways in bread packs or for scout troops etc.?
    Finally, LAUSD may have owned a b/w film about Helms, made available through audio-visual resources. Believe we watched one during the ’70’s but a bit vague on particulars (maybe jr. high on a weird day).
    Now where’s my fresh donut!

  • mark says:

    Sad news of the day.
    Wonder Bread Bakery Sacramento has been forced to close their doors, lay off employees and stop making baked goods.

    The allegations of a public hazard created by the smell of yeast in the air around the factory required that the owners build some sort of a burner unit on top of the exhaust stacks to incinerate or trap the offending yeast particulates.
    At least, that is the story I heard. I can’t find any articles so this is my best guess.
    When I drove past the Bakery over the last 30 years, it would trigger memories of the smell of the donuts as the Helms man pulled the shelf out.

    What a thrill that was. Redondo Beach in the 50s and 60s…

  • Art Griggs says:

    I was pretty young when my family moved to the West L.A. area in the 1950s. Our neighbor was visited by merchant trucks – a green grocer, a milk truck and a Helms Bakery truck. We loved the Helms truck with its special whistle and the fresh goodies therein. But my best experience was my grade school’s annual tour visit to the Helms Bakery. The facility was/is large and smelled great, we got close-up looks where every thing was mixed, baked and then loaded into the distinctive Helm trucks. But the best part was the samples that were handed out!

  • Dianne formerly of Van Nuys says:

    In the mid 50’s when I visited my grandparents in Maywood, my grandmother would send me out when the Helms truck was in sight to get each of us one of their cream puffs, probably at the most .50 for both. Oh for those by gone joys. I’ve never had a cream puff since that tasted as good.

  • Chica says:

    How about King’s Tropical Inn, in the same area?

  • Carl fulbright says:

    Love all the memories….
    I was around 6 or 7 when the helms truck came around our place in Torrance…
    I have been trying to remember a certain kind of roll that I think was called baker boy cinnamon roll, but it must have been made with non-rising dough and was rolled into a tight flat roll with sugar cinnamon and nuts and baked then drizzled with glaze, cut into 1/2 inch slices they were the best…

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

    Too funny, but very insightful Linda (who I presume is no relation to Joe!) I vaguely remember trying door-to-door ala Fuller Brush first summer post hi school graduation…lasted 2 weeks. Whoa! what impolite people out there in the world!
    Weren’t subscriptions to Highlights also sold that way? Loved the hidden pictures!
    Alas, my Mom was not a stay-at-home Mom, so salesguys could only catch her when the doc she labored for was “off” Wednesdays. Hmm…. I don’t recall any Gals doing door-to-door.
    – Hope you tooted the whistle above per 3/24!

  • Linda Friday says:

    Back in the day (the 50s and 60s) most families only had one car which is what made the Helms Bakery and Adohr Farms trucks so plentiful and prosperous. Moms couldn’t make a grocery runs mid-week, so those trucks brought staples to the domestic goddesses of the era. As society changed in the mid-60s, these companies sadly became dinosaurs. I remember them all though: Helms, Adohr, Fuller Brush, Avon, and the Encyclopedia Brittanica were all fixtures in my Monterey Park neighborhood. Because there was a large Asian population as well, there was also a fresh fish truck that navigated the streets. My Japanese neighbor loved to torment me with octopus tentacles! She laughed uproariously as I squealed and squirmed in disgust.

  • Bob says:

    Helms Bakery was absolutely the best school field trip I ever took. I still remember warm mini-loaves that each kid got at the end.

  • Jerry Mezerow says:

    Alison- If you go on ebay they sometimes sell Helms Catalogs of bakery items being baked. Expect to pay big bucks for these photos, as they are very collectible. I have two catalogs that cost $200. You can check it out for yourself. They also sell metal Helms trucks that are nice.

  • Phyllis Steinberg says:

    Did you forget about the refrigerated drawer that contained the cream puffs? Oh..Yum!!

  • Sandie says:

    I grew up on Grand Summit Road in Torrance….cannot think of home without remembering our Helm’s man. My two favorite items….fresh, sugary jelly, not lemon, doughnuts and a small chocolate sheet cake with chopped nuts on top! Man, oh man…..loved growing up in the sixties in sixth Bay Area of California.

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

    Great remembrance Jan W!
    Albeit it has been a year since I sent this on herein from some guy, hope you tooted the Helm’s whistle for your G-daughter http://tinyurl.com/mltkeq2. It was apparently heard just down the road in Culver City (CC) as well.
    – BTW, you are of the same era of CC’s Sharrie Williams http://saffronsrule.com/ who was going to CC High about your time too! If you were into makeup as a teen as well, might I suggest Y’all catch a copy of http://tinyurl.com/zlk4b8j

  • Jan W says:

    I was born in 1946 and lived in Pacific Palisades in the day when it was just the most wonderful place to call home. I remember the Helm’s man as though it were yesterday, and tonight when my granddaughter and I were talking I told her about the field trip which was my all time favorite – down to the bakery where we watched breads and cookies roll out of the ovens onto long conveyor belts. I loved coming home with my little paper truck and saved it for a long, long time, it was such a treasure. Our Helm’s man knew I loved those fresh donuts, and I would always make sure to have my little bit of change ready when he came around so I could purchase a treat. What great memories came alive in my mind as I saw these pictures and read about those days. I’m so glad I can still walk back in time so easily and so happily. Thanks so very much for your post!

  • Alison says:

    We celebrate the trucks, are there no photos of the baked goods?
    There are no interior pictures of the boxy vans that show their unique drawer system. Drawers in the large van opening into the driver’s area up front held cookies. Open to the rear, they revealed pies and cakes. Were those drawers the same drawers… or were there two separate sets? Whichever, they were beautifully crafted wood and would have made great furniture. Where did they go?

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