Hermann’s turn-of-century digs get historic label

By: Heidi Roman | Royal Oak Review | Published August 4, 2011

 Richard Hermann, owner of Hermann’s Bakery on Main Street in Royal Oak, remembers growing up in the bakery, which he inherited from his father, George Hermann.

Richard Hermann, owner of Hermann’s Bakery on Main Street in Royal Oak, remembers growing up in the bakery, which he inherited from his father, George Hermann.

Photo by Edward Osinski

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ROYAL OAK — Instead of a high chair, Richard Hermann’s parents used to sit him in a shallow mixing bowl while they busied themselves kneading bread dough and making pie crust.

When he got bigger, they found a bigger mixing bowl.

“They’d give me some pie dough to play with,” Hermann said. “My mom used to bring me in and weigh me on the big scale in the back.”

So went the life of a baker’s son.

His father, George Hermann, worked early hours six days a week, so the boy spent a lot of time at the bakery; it was the only way to spend time with his dad outside Sunday. When he was big enough to ride a bike, he’d sneak out of the house on Gainsborough and make the one-mile trip up to the bakery.

“My dad would call home and tell my mom, ‘He’s here,’” remembered Hermann, now 71. “It was a good time to grow up.”

Today, the same scale is still in the back room at Hermann’s Bakery on Royal Oak’s Main Street, and Richard Hermann is still kneading the dough.

The Royal Oak Historic District Study Committee recommended Hermann’s Bakery be designated a historic district. The building it’s housed in was built in 1902 by the Dondero family; it’s the oldest commercial building in Royal Oak, the committee said.

In its report, the committee calls the bakery “a mainstay of downtown Royal Oak.”

“The Dondero name would have been a very familiar one in Royal Oak in the early 1900s,” the report said. “Donderos were active members of the Royal Oak community.”

They dealt in politics, law, real estate and insurance, and operated a hotel at Fourth and Center streets.

The family owned Dondero’s Confectioners, Baked Goods and Complete Soda Fountain on Main and Fourth streets. It was later shortened to Dondero’s Bakery and ultimately became Hermann’s Bakery.

Gus and Ida Dondero had two sons and a daughter who weren’t interested in the business, but they had an employee who was. George Hermann was hired as a clean-up boy there in 1922, but became more of a son than an employee.

That’s where Hermann met his wife, Kathryn, an employee hired at the bakery for 25 cents an hour. George Hermann became a partner at the bakery and bought the business in 1942.

Their oldest son, Richard Hermann, officially started working there in 1954, though he’d been kneading the dough since he was a baby. When his father died in 1984 and his mother in 1999, he took over the role he still holds today.

He learned the business from watching his father, by reading and by simple trial and error.

“I haven’t changed any of the old recipes, although some of the ingredients have changed,” Hermann said. Shortening is different today and so is the flour.

“Years ago we were known for our bread, but nobody’s buying bread anymore,” Hermann said.

Atkins and low-carb diets have been rough on sales.

“When I was growing up, we had bread on the table for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” he said. “You couldn’t buy bread in a gas station or all these other places. When a meat market down the street first brought bread in, my mother was pissed.”

In the meantime, Hermann’s Bakery perfected muffins and doughnuts and cupcakes instead. It’s a full-service bakery, so special occasion cakes keep them busy, too.

Hermann’s Bakery is located at 317 S. Main St. in Royal Oak. Call (248) 541-3218 for hours and information.

 

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