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Former Roslyn Bakery Store #20 at 5231 E. Washington in Irvington – Photo by Ryan Hamlett

On a quick jaunt to Chicago this weekend to see an exhibition soccer match at Soldier Field, several billboards scattered around the city reminded me and the other 4th of July weekend traffic weary travelers, of the pending return of Twinkies, Wonder Bread and the rest of Hostess’ offerings on the 15th of this month.

I‘m certainly glad the Eastside Hostess/Wonder production facility on North Shadeland is providing both dozens of jobs to a city that needs them as well as an opportunity for me to make good on repaying a debt in the form of a box of raspberry Zingers that I may or may not owe Historic Indianapolis.com’s fearless leader, Tiffany Benedict Berkson. Confectionary debt aside, if we’re talking the rebirth of pastry pushers past, there’s only one name foremost on my mind; that of Indianapolis’ own Roselyn Bakery.

Roselyn’s story begins with John S. Clark Sr.’s employment at Citizen’s Bakery in Clarksburg, West Virginia. There, his son and bakery groupie, John S. Jr. would hang around the ovens and do odd jobs around the bakery before the senior Clark relocated the family to Indianapolis to work for the Chicago-based bakery supply company, Chapman & Smith. Eventually, John Jr. would study Mechanical Engineering at Purdue in the 20s, but left his junior year when John Sr. passed away. To support his family, John Jr. left Purdue and took his father’s position at Chapman & Smith, traveling to bakeries all over the state, giving him an inside look at what led to success and what led to failure in the world of baking. While attending a dance at Butler University in early 1930, the young John Jr. met the fetching Mildred Goepper and married her in September, later that year.

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John S. Clark Jr. and Mildred Clark – photo from the Roselyn Cookbook

Thirteen years later, on a sales run to a bakery at Meridian and 22nd Streets, John opined to the baker how he might improve his struggling business. The baker said that if John could do better himself, he should do so. A challenge John accepted, making the baker an offer on his business and establishing his first bakery. John and Mildred were set on calling their new business “Rosemary’s” and had a sign under construction before learning of a bakery in Marion, Indiana of the same name. Short on start-up funds, they salvaged the sign, opting on a slightly different name. With that, the first Roselyn’s Bakery was open for business in 1943.

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The first Roselyn Bakery location at 22nd Street and Meridian, from 1948. The original building has been replaced by a Subway and Little Ceasars – photo from the Roselyn’s Cookbook.

With World War II in full swing, Clark Jr. was drafted into the army that same year and was deployed for nine months, during which time Mildred held down the proverbial fort at home–running the new bakery herself, taking over the administrative side of the company upon his return. With war rationing still in full effect, the couple purchased a donut shop with a large flour and sugar ration and opened up another location to keep said ration. Things were running smoothly by 1950 when a local chain of groceries approached the Clarks about placing their baked goods in their stores. For this, a centralized baking facility was built at 30th and Keystone to handle the increased volume.

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The bakery’s first mascot was “Chef Henry” until he was ousted by the blushing “Rosie” in 1955.

By the late ’50s, as they were about to lose the lease to their original location at 22nd and Meridian and while growing increasingly disenfranchised with the grocery store arrangement, John purchased a filling station across the street from store #1 and designed his first freestanding bakery. It was from this prototype that the ubiquitous Roselyn Bakery sign and building began to spring up around central Indiana. It was also around this time that John’s son, John R. Clark, joined the family business and ran the company with his father until John S. retired in 1976. Under John R.’s leadership, the company swelled to over 40 locations.

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Roselyn’s Bakery Store #22 at 38th Street and Massachusetts Ave. in 1958. – From the Roselyn’s Cookbook

Things began to go off the rails with the tragic murder of John R. Clark in his home during a robbery in 1989, a killing that– to this day– remains unsolved. The slaying thrust then 22 year-old Jeff Clark into leadership of Roselyn’s, soon joined by brothers Jack and James. Under the three brothers, Roselyn’s continued to thrive throughout the ’90s until in 1999, a critical state health inspection of their 30th Street production facility revealed some, shall we say, less than ideal cleanliness issues.

The media attention payed to the health inspection (understandably) took a giant bite out of Roselyn’s profits. Though the facility was scrubbed and passed a second inspection, the family, who had gone into what their PR firm described as a “bunker state” after their father’s murder, refused to let the media into the bakery center to film and photograph it for themselves, instead opting to use their own photographer to document the clean-up, producing photos that no one was interested in. On the eve of a second scathing article by the Indianapolis Star, the brothers determined that they could not afford to ride out the aftermath of the scandal and shut down all of their bakeries for good.

The sudden absence of so many uniquely small buildings around central Indiana led to a small real estate rush to scoop up the former Roselyn’s, transplanting many decidedly non-confectionary businesses in their stead. From Revol Wireless stores to H & R Block franchises, Indianapolis is dotted with flying-V shaped signed reminders of a bakery empire that once was, but now only exists on shelves of select grocery stores throughout town.

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Store #22 and its repurposed sign still exists at 38th and Mass Ave. – Photo by Ryan Hamlett

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A repurposed Roselyn’s sign at the Checker Flag Tavern on West Washington Street – photo by Ryan Hamlett

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Perhaps the most visible reminder of Roselyn’s absence, Store #23 at Washington and Pennsylvania, downtown. Post Roselyn, it had been a Panda Express Chinese Restaurant and most recently a recently closed Dunkin’ Donuts franchise – Photo by Ryan Hamlett

 

18 responses to “Roselyn Bakeries”

  1. basil berchekas jr says:

    Store 23 at Washington and Pennsylvania looks so incongruous at this “urban” “downtown” location…a Dunkin’ Donuts or breakfast place would work well there until a taller building hopefully with a street level walk-in store could be built, if Indianapolis’ real estate market is actually “hot” like boosters say…

  2. Brad Boyd says:

    Ryan, thanks for reminding so many of us of a favorite place to go while growing up in Indy. It is nice that Roselyn Recipes’ sweetheart coffee cake and some other items are still available in local grocery stores.

    Since Taylor’s Bakery just turned 100 years old, it might be worth writing up a brief history of this four-generation family company, which has recently expanded by adding ice cream to it’s bountiful list of bakery items. I know for my family, a birthday just isn’t official unless we have a Taylor’s cake…and each of us has a slightly different favorite flavor combination! Current owner John Clark has been turning the business reins over to sons Matt and Drew. His father was a member of our downtown Kiwanis Club; when we moved weekly luncheon locations from the English Hotel to the old Athletic Club in November, 1969, he decided that he would lift the spirits of our members by providing a large sheet cake to celebrate monthly birthdays. They have been providing these cakes the last Friday of the month for nearly 44 years…and by my rough calculation, they have donated over 425 sheet cakes totaling a current market value of nearly $53,000. (We aren’t counting the calories!)

    I hope fellow Hoosiers continue to support locally-owned, family-run companies like Taylor’s Bakery. They certainly make life sweeter around Indianapolis, and their generosity is much-appreciated!

  3. Marilyn Jacobs says:

    Thank you for writing this. We were gone from 1984 till 2009 but would always make a Roselyn stop when were home. I was shocked to see they were gone and with no family in Indpls. any longer, I wasn’t sure what happened. I know of the 8 different cities we have lived, I never found another bakery quite like it. I had not been to Taylors until we moved back. It is excellent too – just not the convenient locations that Roselyn had.

  4. David says:

    Brad, your comment about Taylor’s and their quality which is without dispute, brings to mind my other favorite Indy bakery, Long’s.

  5. George Pyle says:

    The Roselyn at College and Westfield in Broad Ripple was a favorite place for me in the mid-1960’s.

  6. Norm Morford says:

    Thanks, Ryan. Fascinating!

  7. Charles says:

    When I moved to Indy, Roselyn’s had not been out of business for that long, so memories of it were quite fresh. I always have had Taylor’s as my go to bakery, but whenever I showed up with goods from there, someone would invariable start a Roselyn’s v Taylor’s debate.

    I wish the article paid more attention to the health inspection that caused their ultimate demise. I have heard so many variations as to what was actually discovered. I would have appreciated the clarification.

  8. Michelle says:

    wondering if during your research you came across any pictures of the packaging? I’m trying to duplicate one of the cakes from roselyn for my mom on Mothers Day and I can’t find any pics or anyone who has memories of them. Can’t ask Mom because it’s a surprise.

    thanks

  9. Peggy says:

    Was there a Roselyn bakery at Stop 11 Rd. and Madison Ave? Could someone please answer this question for me? It is very important!!!!!!

  10. Daniel says:

    I can’t be quite sure about the location that you’re asking about, but I do know that there was one located at Madison Ave and Edgewood Ave, which is now Liberty Tax Service. It’s located next to a CVS, and across the street from a Kroger store.

  11. Ellen Durham says:

    There was also one at County Line and South Meridian.

  12. Maggie Grayson says:

    Roselyn Bakery was a big part of my childhood. My father, who worked for PennCentral Railroad at the Big Four Building downtown, often brought home a dozen toffee cookies and joked that he had “made them” on the way home. On an Indianapolis bus, no less! While their baked goods were famous throughout Indy, I somehow remember a special kind of sucker on a display near the register. I think they had a child’s face cooked into the candy. Does anyone know what they were called and who made them? Thanks!

  13. Maggie Grayson says:

    They had the best Boston creme cakes! My sister always snatched the single cherry on top.

  14. Bob says:

    Would people like to see Roselyn return ? With the recent expansion of other Indiana based doughnut stores Like Jack’s doughnuts ( New Castle ) and Square doughnuts ( Terre Haute) both which were single store locations until their franchising.
    Roselyn had something like 40 locations and a 50 year history.

  15. Robin Funk says:

    I read with interest your article about the Roselyn bakeries and the continuation of his son’s management of the bakery after John Clark’s murder. You go on to talk about Taylor’s bakery’s and John Clark being the current owner. John ALLEN was the current owner at the time this article was written. A correction would be warranted.

  16. Anonymous says:

    5

  17. Joe Parham says:

    I erected Roslyn Bakery signs in 89 and remember John Clark. I was shocked when he was murdered. Cant believe its been that long ago. And they never found his killer. Sad.

  18. Brad says:

    I was part of the crew that was contracted to handle a certain element of the cleanup process. Please trust me when I tell you that you do NOT want to know the full scope of the sanitation issues when it was shut down. To this day, I still get emotional when I recall it.

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