For most Capital Region natives, Freihofer’s is synonymous with baked goods and community involvement. And for those a little bit older, the name also brings back memories of home delivery by horse and wagon.
“We were always amazed at how the horse knew the route,” said 94-year-old Schenectady native Joe Mangino, who grew up on Avenue A in the Goose Hill section of the city. “He’d stop at our house, and then he always knew the next stop. We’d watch him. They didn’t need a driver. They could have put me in the wagon. The horse knew who the customers were.”
Freihofer’s ended delivery by horse and wagon in 1962. Then 10 years later, on Jan. 22, 1972, after all of the company’s routemen had retired, truck delivery to the home was also phased out. Freihofer’s, however, remains a vital part of the scene throughout much of upstate and parts of New England, as a supplier of bread and a tasty collection of treats, as well as a staunch supporter of various community events such as the Freihofer’s Run for Women, the Saratoga Jazz Festival and the Melodies of Christmas.
Being present and being helpful
That commitment to the community began when Charles Freihofer doled out free loaves of bread to Troy residents during the flood of 1913 just a few weeks after his business opened. Tuesday at the Hall of Springs in Saratoga Springs, Freihofer’s will celebrate its long and successful history with a special 100th anniversary celebration beginning at 5:45 p.m. “If you look at our history, from the Troy floods of 1913 up to today, the company has never lost its focus on being part of the community,” said Jim Keppler, director of Retail Accounts for Freihofer’s. “That’s what made us successful and that’s why we’ve had such a long run. Senior management has always talked about being involved with our customers, and it’s not just product donations. It’s about going to fundraisers and being present and being helpful. That’s been the fabric of this company since it started.”
According to company records, it was Charles F. Freihofer, the son of a German immigrant, who first started the family bakery back in Philadelphia around 1884, although other accounts say Charles and his brother William began the business across the Delaware River in Camden, N.J., in 1899. Whatever the case, Charles’ three sons — Charles C., Edwin and Frank — all worked with their father as the business grew.
In 1911, on a family trip to Montreal, the group made a brief stop in Troy. The Collar City was busy with industrial activity, and with many women working in the textile shops, the Freihofers saw an opportunity to expand the family business. With their father’s blessing, Charles C. started a company in Lansingburgh, the northern section of Troy, in March of 1913. In 1914, Frank opened a plant on Albany Street in Schenectady. The following year, Edwin was in charge of a new building in Albany, firmly planting the Freihofer’s label throughout the entire Capital Region.
Signaling the driver
Sylvia Navaretta has lived in Rotterdam for 60 years, but she grew up in Schenectady not too far from the Albany Street plant, which is now closed.
“We would put the Freihofer’s sign in the window and that would tell the driver to stop,” remembered Navaretta. “Then he’d come right to the front door and give us our goodies. The bread was delicious, but they also had a lot of treats, and we liked everything. As kids we loved the horse and buggy. Then we got the truck delivery, but it just didn’t seem the same.”
Frank Freihofer and his wife, Elsie Morris Freihofer, moved into a house on McClellan Street in Schenectady in 1914 to be closer to the business, and in 1921 the couple built a home on Woodland Avenue in Niskayuna. He was a long-time member of the Corlaer Mason Lodge and was director of both the Schenectady Chamber of Commerce and the Kiwanis Club. When he died in 1944 at the age of 55, Freihofer had been living on the Troy-Schenectady Road in Niskayuna, while his two brothers were still firmly entrenched in the family business, one in Albany and the other in Troy. His father, Charles, the original owner of the family business, had died just two years earlier at the age of 82, having remained in the Philadelphia area.
On Nov. 21, 1949, the company debuted its own television show on WRGB called “The Freddie Freihofer Show,” also referred to as “Breadtime Stories.” Ralph Kanna, Ed Joyce and Bud Mason all took turns as the host of the show, but it was “Uncle Jim Fisk” who took over in July of 1956 and remained the face of the show until its run came to a close in 1966. On Feb. 20, 1965, it was the first local television show to be broadcast in color.
The descendants of all three brothers continued to run the business, but in 1987, when Freihofer’s was sold to General Foods, the family connection was waning. Three family members (Al, Wayne and Chris) were still involved as late as 1992. But soon all family ties were severed, and the company was sold again, first to George Weston Bakeries and then most recently to Bimbo Bakeries in 2009. Throughout the changes, Freihofer’s products remained virtually the same.
“Our chocolate chips continue to be one of our most popular items,” said Keppler, who has been at Freihofer’s for 27 years. “But our number one seller is our 100 percent whole wheat bread. Back in the 1980s, somebody had the marketing genius to realize that people were changing their eating habits. They launched the whole wheat bread without any real advertising, and they asked themselves, ‘Is this really going to sell?’ Well, it worked. The people here understood the consumer and realized in which direction they were heading.”
Much has remained the same
Izzy Garrow of Malta started working at Freihofer’s Albany Street plant in Schenectady 42 years ago. When bakery production ended at that plant in the late 1970s, Garrow moved to the current location on Prospect Street in Albany. Later this week the name of the street will be officially changed to Freihofer Way.
“My father worked here as a baker, so it’s been a pretty good company to work for,” said Garrow, who also started out baking breads at Albany Street and is now part of the management team at the Albany plant. “Some things have changed, but it is minimal. We’ve automated a lot of things, but it’s still the same quality product.”
Freihofer’s is making bread throughout the day at its Albany facility, seven days a week.
“We go three shifts, and our operation is always up and running,” said Garrow. “We shut down just a couple of times each week, but not for long. We make a lot of product, and it’s a very good product.”