Rochester's famous baker makes Betty Crocker proud
A special order and compliments of Mamie Eisenhower added to Newton Holland's success story.
Newton Holland was the kind of booster every town needs, and Rochester was lucky to have him.
Holland was best known as the owner and operator of Holland’s Cafeteria and Bakery from 1927 to 1958. His eatery was regarded as one of the best in town, if not in the entire region, and it was said that diners traveled from significant distances to enjoy a meal at Holland’s.
Holland was also a founder and president of the Rochester Art Center, and was instrumental in the formation of the Rochester Figure Skating Club, among numerous other civic ventures. But it was his skill as a baker and businessman that gave him an opportunity in 1955 to take the name of Rochester coast-to-coast on a television broadcast.
In his weekly column in the April 16, 1955, edition of the Post-Bulletin, Holland reported that he had received a phone call from Janette Kelley, otherwise known as “Betty Crocker,” at General Mills in Minneapolis. Kelley asked Holland if he could create 60 centerpieces for the Future Homemakers of America dinner to be held April 21 at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia.
That ordinarily would not be a problem, except that General Mills wanted the centerpieces to be made from bread. “The centerpiece should suggest home-making,” Holland was told. “It should be constructed so that the bread course can be served from it, and it should be both decorative and unusual in character.”
“It certainly was a challenge,” Holland wrote. And he was soon struck with an idea: his mother’s work basket, baked in bread, from which the bread course of the meal could be served.
Holland and his bakers went to work, fashioning the bread-basket centerpieces. Then he had another brainstorm: For the head table, he created six “Hansel and Gretel” houses made of bread, with trees and shrubs of bread. He also created ears of corn and grapes made from bread.
Finally, everything was ready to be shipped to Philadelphia in time for the banquet.
“But now we had a problem,” Holland wrote. “How to make these in Rochester, ship them to Philadelphia, and have them arrive there oven fresh for the banquet.”
Among the experiments, he tried spraying the bread creations with lacquer to keep them from drying out. “No luck,” Holland said.
Eventually, one of Holland’s cooks, Helga Bachison, suggested putting the bread items in sealed plastic bags immediately after baking. That did the trick. Each plastic bag was then packed in a cardboard box, and every six boxes were taped together and placed in a shipping container.
Special handling was requested from the railroad shipping company. The boxes arrived in time for the banquet, which was scheduled to be telecast nationwide, in those early days of television.
When Holland nervously called Kelley to check on his creations, he was told they “came through in perfect shape from Rochester, not a crumb out of place.” At the dinner, First Lady Mamie Eisenhower welcomed the 480 young women who were under consideration for “Homemaker of Tomorrow.”
It all added up to another successful effort by Holland to spread the name of Rochester far and wide.
Thomas Weber is a former Post Bulletin reporter who enjoys writing about local history.