Bakery pioneer Dora Schwebel raised six children on her own, helped feed her community during the Great Depression and built one of the industry’s most successful independent bakeries through sheer will by outworking the competition.
That’s why she is one of four industry legends to be inducted into the Baking Hall of Fame during the American Society Baking’s 2009 BakingTech conference, which runs from March 1-4 in Chicago.
The other inductees include Dale LeCrone, founder of LeMatic, Louis Kuchuris of East Balt and Louys Rumsey, an educator who started the Baking Science and Management department at Florida State University. He was an industry veteran who worked for the W.E. Long cooperative for two decades and was affiliated with the American Institute of Baking and the American Bakers Association.
Schwebel’s story is a vintage tale of a Polish immigrate starting life over in the United States as a bakery pioneer in the early 1900s. It all began in 1905, when her husband Joseph Schwebel initially went into business with a partner and lost everything within a year.
Shortly after that business failed, he asked his wife, “What are we going to do?”
“First of all,” the no-nonsense woman said, “we aren’t going to have any partners.”
Within eight years of baking the first loaf of bread in 1906, Schwebel Baking Co. was serving a growing number of mom-and-pop stores, eventually hiring its first delivery/salesperson. A short time later in 1923, the Schwebel’s business base had expanded so much that they spent $25,000 to open a small bakery that produced 1,000 loaves a day distributed by six delivery trucks.
In 1928, however, founder Joseph Schwebel died, leaving Dora with six children to take care of and a bakery to run. Friends and family wanted her to sell the operation and focus on raising her family, but she would have none of that.
During the next year, the stock market crashed, the business lost its investments and the ensuing money crunch left the company with no upfront cash to pay the local miller who supplied it with flour.
With her son, Irving, who had returned home from his second year in college, Dora and the family made it through the Great Depression. According to her family, Dora helped feed the city of Youngstown, Ohio, at that time. If people were hungry, they could always get bread from Dora.
Despite the failing economy, the business flourished so well that Schwebel’s built a new bakery in 1936 and expanded it in 1938 and 1941. Ten years later, the family opened their “million-dollar-bakery,” making the company a fixture in Youngstown.
Dora passed away in 1964, but the business has continued to blossom. In 2006, the company celebrated its 100th Anniversary. Today, Schwebel Baking operates four bakeries and 29 distribution centers that serve most of Ohio, western Pennsylvania, western New York and northern West Virginia.
Not only is Schwebel Baking the retail market share leader in Cleveland; Akron/Canton; Youngstown; Columbus, Ohio; as well as in Pittsburgh and Erie, Pa., it is also a leading restaurant-and-institution baker across most of its territory.
Photo courtesy of Schwebel Baking Co.