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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 E. 16th and Bellefontaine Streets.

Top: Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society, Bass Photo Company Collection; Bottom: Google Street View, July 2009

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 16th Street building in 1915. He had previously co-owned the Grocers Baking Company, a prosperous wholesale bakery, on W. 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 the corner of E. 16th and Bellefontaine Streets. 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, his Grocers Baking Company building on W. New York Street suffered a large fire, which might have altered his 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.

 

Courtesy of the Indiana Album

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.

Courtesy of the Indiana Album

 

Courtesy of the Indiana Album

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.”

Top: Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society, Guedelhoefer Wagon Company Collection; Bottom: Google Street View, July 2009

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.

Courtesy of www.tvhistory.tv

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.

1954 Omar Baking Company calendar

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?

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46 responses to “Indianapolis Then and Now: Elwarner Flats / City Baking Company / Omar Bakeries / Omar Bakery Industrial Complex, 901-903 E. 16th Street”

  1. Joan Hostetler says:

    Many 1940s photographs of employees taken by Omar Bakery foreman Virgil Atkerson have been posted on the Facebook page of the Omar Bakery and Industrial Arts Complex. Thanks to his daughter Judith Jo Atkerson Norman for sharing! https://www.facebook.com/omarbakery/photos

  2. Marilyn Jacobs says:

    Seeing the picture of the truck brought it back. We had bread delivered from them and milk from another company that I cannot remember the name. Also remember them because we attended church at 17th & Broadway and drove by their every Sunday morning and remember the smell of bread. Thanks again for bringing back a memory.

  3. Norm Morford says:

    Omar Bakery made excellent products and delivery to the home was valuable to folks in the country. For some years there was an Omar bakery building south of Greencastle. Since I haven’t traveled that way lately, I don’t know if it is still standing.

  4. basil berchekas jr says:

    Remember it…also remember the busy Nickel Plate and Monon railroads that supplied these formerly prosperous establishments from downtown, across 16th, and on up to 38th Street past the Nickel Plate Sutherland yards at 38th…

  5. Dennis E. Horvath says:

    Hi Joan:
    Didn’t they have a TV jingle saying something like “Hey Mom here comes the Omar Man?” I also remember the Omar Man and the Robert’s Milk Man visiting our neighborhood. We also had a produce vendor who had a large step-van. He would ring a bell when he was behind your house and everyone would say “Mr. Klepper is here!” Those were the days of simple family living.
    Thank you for the memories.
    Dennis

  6. Marilyn Jacobs says:

    We also had Roberts Milk delivered – I could not remember the name before. We also had man drive through on a horse drawn wagon selling fruit. I just remember him singing out strawberries.

  7. Joan Hostetler says:

    Yes, Dennis, I’ve read that there was a jingle with the line “Hey Mom here comes the Omar Man,” but I can’t find a recording of it. I actually don’t remember the Omar Man and had never heard of Omar bread before researching this building. I wonder if they delivered in northern Indiana where I grew up.

  8. Joan Hostetler says:

    As one who hates grocery shopping, I wish the delivery practice would start again. Actually, in Indianapolis we can order groceries through Peapod, Green Bean Indiana, or local CSA (community supported agriculture)…but I find it a little expensive.

  9. Wanda Jacobs says:

    Just reading your page brings back the wonderful smells of bread as I walked past he open windows….too, I recal the field trips and how they gave the students a miniture loaf …yum!!

  10. Tom Davis says:

    I just talked to my dad. Probably in the early 40s my grandparents had a little grocery store around 12th and Bellefontaine and lived nearby. He remembers the bakery well because my aunt had a boyfriend who worked there and they went and watched him work at least once. He even remembered that there were apartments in the building without my asking him about it.

  11. Joan Hostetler says:

    Can you imagine living above this place and smelling fresh bread and pastries all day? Tom: Does your dad have any snapshots of his family grocery store, home, or the neighborhood? I’d love to get scans of them.

  12. Jeff says:

    My paternal grandparents met while working at the bakery. My grandfather had just returned from the Pacific after serving as a Marine in WW2 and my grandmother walked to work every day from 12th and Central.

  13. Tom Davis says:

    Joan, I looked through the old pictures my mom and dad gave me and couldn’t really find any that included a picture with the house in it. My dad’s family moved a lot in the 30s, mostly in the old West Indianapolis neighborhood. His best memories are of a house on Sunshine, but they were also evicted from it. I sometimes get the impression that though my grandfather had fairly steady work driving city buses, they were kind of one step ahead of the landlord for awhile. A great aunt and great uncle also owned grocery stores, but everybody left town in the 40s. There were some pictures of my mom and some of her high school friends visiting Monument Circle sometime in the 40s (she grew up in Greencastle.) I think you could make out the English Hotel in one or two of them.

  14. Joan Hostetler says:

    Thanks for checking, Tom.

  15. Raymond Giehll says:

    Hello my wife and I was going though stuff and William Elwarner is her great great grandfather and Russell White was he great grandfather. And it is amazing that she can still find a lot about her family online. Thanks for posting those pictures.

  16. Joan Hostetler says:

    Raymond, Glad you made a connection! Does your wife’s family have photographs of any of Elwarner or White’s businesses or houses? I would love to get copies of them. Please email me at heritagephotoservices@gmail.com if you are interested.

  17. Sandra Jarvis says:

    Wonderful research Joan. The photos you found are priceless!!!

  18. Joan Hostetler says:

    Thanks, Sandra!

  19. Randy Wade says:

    What a great site. My Grandfather, Ralph Wade, was the Master Baker for Omar at the Indianapolis locatrion for many years. He worked there just about until they closed and then he went to work reluctantly at Roslynn bakeries till he passed away. My Mother and her twin sister Ruth and Irma Baker both worked there through the early 40’s as cake bakers and decorators. That’s were my mom met my dad, Ralph’s son Richard Wade, who had just returned from the Army in Europe at the end of the WWII. They were married in 1945. I believe I have several photos from the 40’s of the workers and office staff, some meetings etc…. if someone would like to see them. Thanks again for the memories. glad I could share too! Randy Wade, Greenwood IN

  20. David says:

    I remember the Omar man coming by the house in Terre Haute in the 50’s. Borden, and Model milk men, Fuller Brush man, Avon lady, and a lady with a Tupperware catalog. In summer there was the old man who walked behind a cart of frozen goodies with bells tinkling.

  21. Randy Wade says:

    I reviewed the Omar photos from the website mentioned above with my mother Ruth Baker Wade. She worked at Omar with her twin sister Irma for a few years during and after WWII, https://www.facebook.com/omarbakery/photos

    Regarding the photo taken at the picnic of the tall gentleman and the lady in white dress and white sandals along with another unknown man to the right, ….the couple are my Grandfather and Grandmother, Ralph and Marjorie Wade. He was the head baker at Omar for several years. In the photo directly below, the man standing at the big kettle of bread dough is a gentleman named Homer. My mother remembers him as a very nice person. Although she remembers a lot of the employees in the photos, he is the only one in all the photos that she remembers their name.

  22. mark young says:

    Both my grandfathers were truck drivers for Omar. One would run to Evansville and the other had a run to Richmond Indiana. My father worked at the bakery for 13 years before going to the Post Office.

  23. Cecelia Pierce says:

    They delivered in Madison County. We had the Omar man deliver our Bread, Cakes and Pies. I miss the old delivery services. We had our milk and dairy products delivered to our door also. Such nice memories.

  24. lynne keenan says:

    My father Louis McElroy worked for Omar out of Beech Grove, Indiana. Do you have any records of him? thank you

  25. Victoria Fox says:

    My father, Charles Fox, worked for Omar in Muncie for more than 20 years. He was given a beautiful Seth Thomas mantle clock for his years of service. His routes included the Yorktown and Daleville areas, and he usually was tops in sales of Omar fruitcakes each year. I have a precious photo of him standing at the rear of his truck. I have it, an Omar pocket knife, two service pins and an Omar ring, plus his leather money pouch that he carried. All these are displayed in a shadowbox, which hangs in my kitchen next to an Omar pie tin and a 1957 Omar calendar.
    I also have a plastic Omar truck that is a bank.
    I am a miniaturist (scale-model dollhouse enthusiast) and I have miniaturized the calendar and have it displayed in one of my 1/12th scale vintage kitchen scenes.
    From the many, many cards and notes that were sent to my family during his illness and after his funeral, I know that his customers truly loved my Dad. I miss him every day, and it has been 53 years since he went to Heaven.

  26. nadia zahroon says:

    hello,
    my grandfather worked for Omar as a delivery person back a long time ago perhaps in Muncie,IN.

  27. David S. says:

    I looked at your story today. My father, Lowell Shelton, was an Omar Bakery Route Salesman for years. He was always working 6 days a week, dusk to dawn driving his route and selling his goods. He sold up around Eaton Indiana area. They had the best products and had good friends that worked there also, Curly Mathews, Charlie Fox and Don Eastman. There were more but I don’t remember all their names. I remember my Dad sold the heck out of their Holiday Fruit Cakes. They were so yummy like all their products! I loved reading this article.

  28. james southerland says:

    My Uncle Stanley Enochs was the Omar man in Jonesboro, Indiana back in the 60s. Omar had an outlet in Marion. One of my favorites was the raisen bread with icing on top.

  29. Susan Toomey says:

    Yes, James. I loved the frosted raisin bread! We had an Omar bread delivery to our neighborhood in Des Moines, Iowa in the 50’s and 60’s. Such good memories!

  30. Pam Siegman says:

    I remember the Omar man coming to my grandma’s house. My grandma, Marie and her sister, my Aunt Emma would buy the pastries and breads. I was always excited to see the Omar man, it meant I would get a slice of their pastry. Then the “milkman” would deliver a few bottles of milk and it seemed to me like a “feast”. Sometimes my grandma would allow me to have the cream on the top of the milk. We lived on just south of Fountain Square on a street the I-65 has taken over. So the house is now gone, but not the great memories….good ol’ days…Pam from the southside of Indy.

  31. Anonymous says:

    4

  32. Alex Binder says:

    Hello,

    My Great Great Grandfather worked for the City Baking Company. I have a photo of him standing with another fellow with one of the City Baking Company trucks. I would be more then happy to share it with you.

    Take care

  33. Tiffany Benedict Browne says:

    We would love to see this, and add it to the article, with your permission! Under “Say Hi” there is a place to send the image! https://historicindianapolis.com/contact-us/ Thanks for sharing!

  34. Joshua Rewerts says:

    The buildings on the Southeast corner of 16th and Bellefontaine is now gone. And it’s place will be 25 to 40 new modern homes. I believe M/I Homes is the developer. I work for Carter-Lee lumber, which has amazing history in its self. We are their main supplier.

  35. Iva Williams Ham says:

    My daddy Eldridge Williams worked there in 1957 we lived in Muncie. I was born in Indianapolis at St Francis I think… It was a Catholic hospital. He talked about Omar’s bakery until he left this world. He said that was the only job he had that he truly loved.

  36. Anonymous says:

    3

  37. Connie McGhee says:

    I’ve been searching for recipe for creme filled chocolate cupcakes delivered to my farm home in Ohio

  38. Sheryl musgrave says:

    We loved our Omar Man. I have searched for a recipe for the Dutch ( I thought it was French) cream coffee cake but have had no success. I wonder if it was the same filling used in the cupcakes. Memories always enhance our senses but I remember how wonderful that coffee cake tasted to a little girl in Kokomo, IN!!!!

  39. Mamie says:

    They baked the best rum cake!

  40. Robert Newport says:

    Enjoyed reading this article and especially all the comments. What a cool history.

  41. Gloria Eley says:

    I remembered Omar Bakey, in the 1960s my mother would order from the “Omar man”, bread and donuts. We lived in the Flanner House project near 16th and Northwest Streets. Omar had the best donuts ( taste as good as Longs Donuts).
    t

  42. John bell says:

    its great reading about omar bakeries and learn all the people involved with such a fantastic company. my dad worked there john bell with charlie keys.

  43. kay says:

    Wish I knew the name of the large creme filled pastrie the Omar man brought. Maybe it was 8″ x 10″. I was so excited when mom would get one. Wish I could remember the name or see a picture………….Kay

  44. Carl Straight says:

    I was french cream coffee cake. I worked for Omar Bakery in Columbus Ohio in the seventies. They used the top quality ingrediants. the flavorings were real, many they made themselves.none of the products were made from a mix, the large raised glazed donuts, cupcakes, pies, pecan rings, cheese bread, dressing bread. the absolute best fruit cake, 80% fruit and nuts and aged for one year with rum. they had a winning cake decorator in columbus, Herb Kuniman, he won the best cake decorator at Ohio State Fair for several years and hw did it all by hand, no fancy computors or printers.

  45. John Van Horn says:

    Oh, Mom! Here comes the Omar man!
    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!

  46. Cyndy Nicholson says:

    Yesterday my mom told me the bread at her assisted living wasn’t very tasty. I was at the grocery so I picked up some rye bread for her. She’s going to be 98 in June and has beginning dementia. Today she called to scold me. She said the bread was horrible and almost made her choke. That from now on I need to only buy Omar’s rye. I’ll get right on that.

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