Bakery Express, five decades in business — one in Halethorpe — a favorite of 'doughnut fanatics'

Bakery Express began in 1970 in a Patterson Park rowhouse that had been converted to a bakery. At the time, founder Charlie Burman and his handful of employees produced doughnuts for distribution to a few local 7-Eleven stores around Baltimore.

Now, nearly 50 years and several relocations later, Burman employs 400 people at the company’s headquarters in Halethorpe, where he settled on Hollins Ferry Road in 2008. Burman has additional Bakery Express locations in Dallas, Los Angeles and Orlando, Fla. Each of those locations are smaller, with a total of about 755 employees, he said.

Fresh products from Bakery Express now reach about 4,000 7-Eleven stores, Burman said, and go to nine states plus the District of Columbia. The Halethorpe location produces about 1 million baked goods, including doughnuts, croissants and muffins, every five or six days.

“There’s a lot of people that count on the business,” Burman said.

To celebrate 10 years in the Halethorpe community, Bakery Express offered free doughnuts and other sweet treats to those who visited its retail store and cafe at 4711 Hollins Ferry Road from Oct. 27 to Oct. 31. The anniversary kicked off with Bakery Express’ annual Boo Bash on Saturday, Oct. 27. The store is open from 6:30 a.m to 6 p.m. on weekdays, with limited weekend hours from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m on Sundays. A cafe in the store serves breakfast and lunch seven days a week.

Diana Greenway, 39, who’s lived in Halethorpe her entire life, said she and her husband go to Bakery Express for doughnuts probably two or three times a month.

“I’m a big doughnut fanatic; I’m a doughnut connoisseur,” Greenway said.

Her personal favorite variety is Boston cream, she said, but she loves the selection and freshness of the daily-made doughnuts at Bakery Express.

“Their doughnuts are fresh and delicious compared to every doughnut I’ve had,” she said.

Erik Walls, 29, a manager with the Baltimore County Public Library who lives in Halethorpe, said he makes it to Bakery Express maybe once or twice a month — usually for the doughnuts.

“I just love how fresh they are,” he said. “Yes, I know they’re made in bulk in the warehouse, but they get put right out for sale so they’re very good.”

This story has been updated.

Baked goods sent throughout mid-Atlantic

The thousands of items made at Bakery Express are sent to distribution centers daily and then shipped to 7-Eleven stores and others, such as groceries, up and down the mid-Atlantic area, from West Virginia to New Jersey.

Burman said his company does not have any standing orders. Every day, every 7-Eleven store that uses his product puts in a new order, as do his other customers.

7-Eleven’s corporate office did not respond to an inquiry for a comment for this story.

Bakery Express moved to Halethorpe in 2008 because it needed more space, Burman said. After leaving Patterson Park, the business moved in 1973 to a building on Russell Street in Baltimore. In 1989, Bakery Express moved to Georgetown Road in southwestern Baltimore City. Burman said he chose Halethorpe as its current location so it was close to most employees coming from the city.

“We wanted to stay on the southwest side and keep our employees,” he said.

Part of the reason Burman chose to move to the industrial part of Halethorpe was so the company would never have to move again. He chose a spot large enough to expand the operation if needed and had a 175,000-square-foot building erected on the 14-acre plot.

A recent addition to Bakery Express’ product line is soft pretzels, individually twisted by a machine from Germany.

About two and a half years ago, the company started operating a pretzel line, said Rob Norris, the pretzel department production manager, who has been with the company for five years.

“I get to work with an incredible piece of equipment,” Norris said. “It’s very, very efficient,” he said, adding that the machine produces about 4,000 pretzels each hour that it’s operating.

“[And] the team is great, just great people,” he said.

Burman, 72, said he never set out to go into the bakery business in his early 20s. He just knew he wanted to run a business and not be someone else’s employee.

“When you love what you do every day, it’s just not work. You gotta do something every day,” said Burman who maintains a home in Severna Park but is officially a Florida resident. “When I think about retiring, the first thought that comes to me is, ‘What am I going to do on Monday?’ I don’t want to golfing or go fishing.”

Burman anticipates that the warehouse, bakery and cafe in Halethorpe will grow to support about 600 total jobs in the next decade.

Burman estimated Bakery Express’ wholesale operation accounts for about 97 percent of sales.

The other 3 percent comes from the retail store/cafe catering to about 3,000 customers a week, he said. Beginning each day at 4 p.m., baked goods that aren’t sold in packaging or refrigerated go on sale for half-off at the cafe.

Burman said he was happy to support community events and do fundraisers for local organizations and schools. Bakery Express is a member of the Greater Arbutus Business Association. Fees from member businesses support a myriad community events, including the Arbutus Arts Festival.

“A business, particularly like this, that gets supported by the community, has an obligation to give back to the community. When the opportunity arises, we do that,” Burman said.

Bettina Tebo, president of the Greater Arbutus Business Association, called Bakery Express an asset to the area.

“They are a wonderful addition to our community. GABA appreciates all their support,” Tebo said.

cboteler@baltsun.com

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