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Fire At Historic Sanders Bakery

Posted to MichiganNow.org on Sunday, July 15, 2012

By 8am Saturday morning, residents began walking out of their homes and down streets trying to track the source of plumes of black smoke 500 feet in the air. It was visible for several miles, especially when driving down the Lodge Freeway, M10.

It’s a set back for the Neighborhood Services Association. They are finishing a renovation of the Yellow Pages building just to the west of the bakery on Oakman Blvd in Highland Park.

The Fred Sanders Company, which started in Detroit in 1875, was a popular manufacturer of ice cream and candy for over one hundred years. The material contained in the Burton Historical collection of the Detroit Public Library, including company records, family documents and newspaper clippings, provides a good look at the firm.

The Son of a German baker, Frederick Schmidt was born in Germany in 1848. The family emigrated to the United States a year later, but as a young man Frederick returned to his homeland to learn more about baking as a business. Coming back to America, Schmidt–later called Sanders–opened bakery shops first in Philadelphia and then in Chicago. He came to Detroit only after his store was burned down in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Frederick Sanders opened the “Sanders Pavilion”, a candy and ice cream shop, at the corner of Woodward Avenue and State Street in downtown Detroit in 1875. He later moved the store closer to the river, on Woodward near Michigan Avenue, and the company became a phenomenal success.

By the turn of the century, Sanders opened his “Palace of Sweets” and it remained at the same location on Woodward for the next eighty-five years. By the mid-twentieth century, there were nearly two dozen Sanders stores serving fountain treats along with soups and sandwiches in Detroit and nearby suburbs.

John Miller, who had been “one of the City [of Detroit]’s great merchandisers”, was founder Frederick Sanders’ son-in-law. Taking over the business in 1913, after Sanders’ death, Miller expanded the company. The name was changed to Sanders-Miller Corporation while Miller was president. While the Fred Sanders Company evolved and grew over the years, it remained a private, family-owned business for one hundred eleven years.

The Detroit Free Press reported, “In 1962, when John Sanders, great-grandson of the founder, took over the company from his father, Sanders had 111 stores and more than $20 million a year in sales.” But the real world eventually caught up with the family-owned company, and the 1970s and ‘809 saw any ups.-,and downs with the struggling firm. “Trouble began in the mid-1970s,” the Detroit Free Press reported, “as Sanders faced increasing competition from local rivals such as Awrey Bakeries and from outsiders such as Godiva Chocolates and Entenmann’s, the Long Island baked goods company.”

Fred Sanders Incorporated began in June, 1983, as the successor corporation to Fred Sanders, the “old-line” Michigan baker, confectioner and retail store operating concern originally founded in 1875. It underwent reorganization in 1986 when it became known as Sanders Inc. and for the first time in its 111-year history, the company’s stock went public.

Despite hiring outside management for the first time in its one hundred year history, by the early 1980s the floundering company, unable to compete with “slipping sales, rising costs and an aging plant”, declared bankruptcy. In 1989 the company was taken over by Country Home Bakery, but the name and recipes were retained. At the time the collection ends, in 1989, there were just a handful of Sanders stores still operating in the Detroit area. The collection provides a bittersweet look at a nostalgic era in Detroit’s past.

 

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Photo of Bakery front door in 2007, courtesy of Robert Monaghan,Detroit Liger.

Photo of Bakery front door in 2007, courtesy of Robert Monaghan,Detroit Liger.

The Bell Building next door is undergoing a $50 million renovation to house 150 homeless Detroiters. It was not damaged. But officials at Neighborhood Service Organization, the group managing the project, are trying not to be discouraged.

The Bell Building next door is undergoing a $50 million renovation to house 150 homeless Detroiters. It was not damaged. But officials at Neighborhood Service Organization, the group managing the project, are trying not to be discouraged.

The front of the building, about 400 feet long and two stories, is standing but damaged. The rear of the building sustained the most damage from the fire. The smoke was visible from several miles away. It remained into the evening.

The front of the building, about 400 feet long and two stories, is standing but damaged. The rear of the building sustained the most damage from the fire. The smoke was visible from several miles away. It remained into the evening.

View from Oakman Blvd. looking north

Looking north from Oakman Blvd

Detroit firefighters battling Sanders Bakery warehouse fire 830am, July 14, 2012

Detroit firefighters battling Sanders Bakery warehouse fire 830am, July 14, 2012

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