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“And what does your father do?”

“He’s a bread truck driver.”

“Where does he work?”

“Deppe-Vienna Baking Company.” [It used to be known as the Vienna Model Baking Company, then Deppe-Vienna Baking Company, 1015 Willow Street, Chicago.]

“Got any ‘bread’?” [dough? money? the eating kind?]


Our family never lacked for bread: white, rye, French–and even had enough “sweet rolls” and dinner rolls.

My dad worked “forever” for a bakery that primarily serviced restaurants, steak houses, hotels, diners, and food canteens. He’d bid for routes, sometimes traveling within downtown Chicago, the Near North Side, or to oil refineries or cement plants past the South Side.

When I was in grammar school, I used to help him plan his routes and orders, even making out charge slips. When I was older (14-16, or so), I used to go to work with him, during summers or on non-school days.

I would ride with him in our ’52 Chevy, at one or two in the morning, to the bakery and garage, from the South Side to North Avenue and Clybourn. Since I was not allowed into the loading area, or near the trucks loading inside (labor laws), I would have my pillow and sleep in the back of the Chevy.

Sometime around 4 or 5 a.m., I would hear the knocking on the car window. Next to the car, with its engine running, was the shadow of the dark-green truck, with my dad telling me to get going. I’d grab my jacket and climb inside while he’d get settled behind the steering wheel.

“Get ‘em up!” he’d shout. “Let’s go!”

I’d quickly move into the truck, jumping up the step, away from the open sliding door, and find a spot on the floor behind him (couldn’t be seen), smelling the fumes of gasoline and oil. But as noticeable as the fumes were, the deliciousness of smells from chocolate-covered donuts or cherry Danish would push away the noxiousnesses. Oh, the smell of freshly baked “goods” (“Bakery goods”). [Memories of this special spot returned dramatically to me while I positioned myself on the floor of a B-17, behind the pilots, a ride I took in 2001; I was then in position for takeoff.]

And “take off” we did, my dad and I, pulling away from the neighborhood of the trucks beginning their routes.

Metro VanInternational Metro Van

The interior of the truck had an aisle wide enough for an adult person to walk to the rear-entry door, which on some trucks slid up into the roof, while on others opened outward. Facing the aisle on either side were shelves and racks, holding trays of baked breads, fried donuts (French, my favorite), cakes, cake donuts, and other goodies like éclairs and special- order dinner rolls.

bread truck insidesTRUCK INSIDES

A pile of white unfolded delivery boxes near the front of the truck needed to be assembled. So here I became the under-age bakery-truck-driver helper. (My dad called me his needed “help,” often disappointed when I could not go with him.)

Traveling to each stop, whether in South Chicago or Gary, Indiana, I would assemble a box (or boxes) and “put up” the orders. I followed the route book of cards held together with two large rings. A dozen this, two dozen that; ten loaves of rye; a dozen extra-large white (sliced square bread, pound and a half loaves or two-pound loaves), wrapped in waxy white paper.

File name: D060245 Description: Loaf of white sliced brad Photographer: Jennie Hills Science Museum Date: 12/05/06 Colour Profile: Adobe RGB (1998) Gamma Setting: 2.2THE BEST THING…SLICED BREAD 

The usual first stop was at 6 a.m. Sometimes my dad had a set of keys to enter a diner or neighborhood restaurant. I’d hop off the truck, knowing the correct key, and open the door. He’d be behind me, with boxes in arms, or loaves in hand.

Put the order on the counter–or change an order. Lock the door. Lights out? “Get ‘em up! Let’s go!” And off we’d go. Next stop. The routine. I’d turn over a route card–or may even have had the next order “prepped.”

And so it went…

I entered high school. My dad continued for many more years, mostly without me as I took other jobs–though I might rarely be his help as much as I could.

Vienna-Model became Deppe-Vienna; Deppe-Vienna became part of “Burney Brothers Better Bread.”

burney brothers better breadBURNEY TRUCK 

My dad retired.

The End.


But…those memories. These little stories and anecdotes that occurred within those times. Anecdotes containing wisps of smiles or frowns, accidents and missteps that led to my growing or growing years:

Images of smiling chefs readying piles of shrimp for 5-star restaurant diners. My starting the engine of the truck trying to “help,” not knowing the purpose of a clutch… Driving skills learned from my dad: Quickly preparing a dozen mixed donuts for policemen at 5 a.m. (Was that a red light?) Hearing once–and only once in my entire life–my dad shout “F**K!” (not “fork”). Seeing my dad work hard, really hard, in awful Chicago weather. My learning maps and directions, my way around Chicago; my planning truck delivery routes, and eating delicious meals free from favorited favored customers (my first T-bone steak!).

OK: it wasn’t always sweets and good times, especially being a back-seat sleeper, early riser. Nevertheless, what fun (mostly) I had.

And the memories: Ah, the memoriesofatime.

Each of us has had some kind of special relationship with maple-frosting long johns, or custard-filled bismarcks, or finger-lickin’ sugared donuts–a relationship that began in childhood. I, on the other hand, had a special relationship with my dad while in his bread truck, driving around the streets of Chicago, probably eating a favorite French donut. What good luck!

I hear him often in my mind’s ears: “Get ‘em up! Let’s go!” “Sweets” to my ear.

* * *

NOTE: About the title: Grammarly, it’s ok in Chicago. We knew that “going to get some bakery” meant dozens of donuts or apple slices or various “sweet rolls” (almond, cheese, cherry, lemon, pecan, etc.) We weren’t on a mission to “buy some bakery company”

So, “Wanna’ come with? To get some bakery?”

© James F. O’Neil 2015

By: James F. O’Neil

Many seasonal jobs and temporary positions rely upon college students to apply, especially fast-food establishments.  I have never worked at a fast-food restaurant with fast-food menus.  My restaurant experience, however, took place at the O’Hare Inn in Des Plaines, Illinois.  The Henrici’s Restaurant there had a large dining room with an outstanding menu, and large activity halls for weddings and parties.

Photo credit: Chuckman’s Collection of Postcards

As a college student, I needed part-time work to help with usual expenses and summer activities (including gas for the car to go to the beach or to visit with friends in the area).

I began my new job as a bus boy in the large celebration dining room and halls, doing the usual chores, helping servers with distribution of dinner plates of food, clearing tables, then handing out desserts.  After the last wedding song or dance, or after the last speech–when guests left–the real work began: removing the detritus of celebratory gatherings.  Knives, forks, plates, table cloths, glasses, flowers and flower vases, ash trays, empty bottles and cups and saucers–uneaten cake, half-empty glasses of wine,  partially-filled wine bottles, and on and on: the aftermath of partying was cleared away.

Occasionally, were the festivities long lasting, the servers ate together, usually in three-quarter time, whatever happened to be on the menu.  Good food I soon learned.

I enjoyed the work, but not the rush, not the stress.  Working during the summer did give me a change of pace from studies, however, an opportunity to mingle with workers and even customers, and a time to try to determine what my schooling and life-as-cliché “were really all about.”  What I enjoyed mostly was working with the women servers and hostesses.  I had not had much contact with females in my away-at-college jobs, since I was attending an all-male school.

I had become good at my work, made friends, and learned my sense of duty–so much so that I was recommended (by the women, as a matter of fact) to the assistant manager to “move up.”  This was the “big time,” the “show,” the place of the black-vest-and-tuxedo-jacket-uniform of only males in the dining room.  I was a classy bus boy–with “other duties as assigned.”  I would train to be a “flamer,” then a wine steward.  No females were allowed to perform like this in the dining room (as I remember).

The flamer had to cook at table side those various Henrici’s specialties like shish kebab, filet mignon (Chateaubriand), frog legs; and cherries jubilee or bananas Foster.  It was show; for the chefs cooked, then sent me out to heat and serve, with the twists of the wrists, or the holding of forks-and-spoons-as-one, to baste in butter, or seasoned juices, to cut and serve the meat, with red-to-pink centers of pepper-encrusted aged beef tenderloins.  I did the show, then did the serving, with the twists of my wrists.  (I recall dropping a frog leg only once–hopped right out of the hot butter onto the carpet…)

I opened wine bottles, mostly without crumbling a cork; I twisted open bottles of champagne without the cinematic geysers that spoil effervescence.  I was careful, having learned to make not even a “Pop.”     

So there I was, wearing my best, with corkscrew and flamer cart and all the needed preparations, ready to ignite brandy or cognac or whatever other liqueurs I used, trying carefully not to ignite myself or a customer.  (That “Whoosh!” sound surprised me time after time, the instant ignition, sound-with-yellow-flame-and-heat, capable of singeing hairs on a customer’s neck or arm…  I…did…singe…) 

I finished my tenure at Henrici’s and returned to graduate from college.

Once, soon after we were married, I took my new bride to Henrici’s at the O’Hare Inn, to eat a fancy meal with wine and Chateaubriand for two.  And a flamed dessert.  I simply had to take her there to show off–to show her what I used to do before we met.  The dining room looked smaller, though, than it did when I was bustling around from table to table. 

Perhaps it was always thus, though I was too occupied to recognize that the restaurant was a great place to go and be seen–and to have excellent food.  With the ambiance of upscale dining and with upper-shelf alcohol served, the Inn became an oasis in a growing community, an oasis for those who did not need to travel to Downtown Chicago for dining pleasure.

Oh, I have never had frog legs (though they are supposed to taste like chicken).

© James F. O’Neil  2013





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