Does anyone remember the Omar Man delivering fresh bread and cookies to your door? Indianapolis was one of several cities throughout the country with an Omar Baking Company factory. A large crew of driver-salesmen peddled fresh-baked goods door-to-door from the 1920s through the 1960s. The bread, cakes, cookies and other goodies were prepared at the Omar Baking Company on the southeast corner of East 16th and Bellefontaine Streets.
Before Omar Baking Company opened a branch in Indianapolis, the City Baking Company occupied the structure. Baker William Elwarner, who had earlier owned a grocery on the site, constructed the building in 1915. He co-owned the Grocers Baking Company, a prosperous wholesale bakery, on West New York Street. According to the July 2, 1915 issue of the Indianapolis Star, Elwarner hired architects Graham and Hill to design an apartment building with three storefronts on this corner. The rustic Oriental brick and Bedford stone-trimmed building was fireproof and featured a laundry in the basement. It included space for three stores on the ground floor (originally rented to a grocer) and four upper-level apartments each with four rooms and a bath, hardwood floors, oak woodwork, and “in-a-door beds” (also known as Murphy beds). Just as Elwarner Flats was nearing completion in November 1915, Grocers Baking Company suffered a large fire which might have altered the plans for this building. By 1918 Elwarner had started a new bakery from this site known as City Baking Company. He expanded and added several additions and garages, but within about a decade he closed and sold the building to Omar Baking Company. Notice in the photo above (taken in July 1927) that each apartment featured a small balcony facing Bellefontaine Street.
Via eBay we recently bought a series of photographs taken of the City Baking Company in 1922. Women are seen with baked goods such a cupcakes, triple-layer cakes, large cookies, and buns. Through today’s lens, we notice that the space looks less than sanitary and that the employees are not wearing gloves or hairnets.
The electric delivery trucks were charged at a bank of batteries inside a garage. They prominently displayed the slogan: “Direct From Our Ovens to Your Home.”
Elwarner continued as company president, working with his son-in-law Russell L. White as secretary-treasurer, until the mid-1920s. Although White later owned the White Baking Company in Indianapolis (and was president of the board of Indiana National Bank), this building was sold to the Omar Baking Company by 1927.
Founder William J. Coad of Nebraska named the company after the Medieval Persian mathematician and poet Omar Khayyam, who authored a poem with the line “Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough, A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse — and Thou.” That explains the early logo with a politically-incorrect boy in a turban, seen on this 1940s wax bread wrapper.
Many folks on online nostalgia boards remember the delivery men of the past with fondness. Along with Fuller Brushes, Charles Chips, Roberts Milk, and Jewel Tea, people of a certain age from ten states remember the Omar Man and his wares such as pimento cheese bread, Dutch cream-filled coffee cake, sweet rolls, and wheat bread. The jingle must have been memorable, but I have yet to find an online recording.
“I’m the Omar man, (tap,tap,tap)
knocking at your door (rappa tap tap).
When you taste my bread (mmmm boy!),
you’re gonna want more (rappa tap tap).
Yes, everyone loves those cookies and cakes
and the wonderful bread the Omar bakes!
Get it from your Omar man!”
At one point the eighth-largest baker in the nation, Omar Bakeries (later Hall-Omar Bakeries) owned two flour mills as well as baking plants in Omaha, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Peoria, and Columbus and Hamilton, Ohio. In 1966 the business failed; some say due to labor strikes, the death of the owner, the ease of transportation and buying groceries at new supermarkets, and working women not being home to answer the door. The old Indianapolis baking plant was empty for several years but is currently undergoing restoration as the Omar Bakery Building and Industrial Arts Complex.
So what do you remember about the Omar Bakery?