Story of Bunny Bread shared in article which originally appeared in 1952 paper
m was submitted to Martha Ann Webb, who received it from Louise Pitts. Martha Ann Webb writes the Anna News for The Gazette-Democrat. Louise, in turn, received the item from Jerry Hines. The item is a copy of a news article which appeared in The Gazette-Democrat in 1952.)
Lewis Brothers Bakery History And Progress
Lewis Brothers’ Bakery established February 1, 1925, was located in a log building at the rear of the property on West Chestnut Street and owned by Harry Moss of Anna, who also owned the bakery equipment.
The brothers, A.C. and A.S. Lewis came to Anna from Johnston City. A.C. Lewis, oldest of the brothers, had started work in a bakery at the age of fifteen years, sweeping floors and performing odd jobs, later becoming an apprentice baker and finally working as foreman in bakeries at Harrisburg, Marion and Johnson City.
A.S. Lewis or “Cotton” as he is generally known, followed in his brother’s footsteps, taking up the floor sweeping, odd jobs, and finally that of an apprentice prior to coming to Anna.
R.J. Lewis, or Jack, joined the bakers at a later date.
AC.’s wife, Jewell, was also a member of the firm, sharing in the work at the bakery.
Jack makes no secret of the fact that the bank account of the firm and the firm’s credit rating were on an even balance, Lewis Brothers having neither of these two commodities at the beginning.
The firm’s only asset was the three pair of efficient hands and a firm conviction that they could produce bread of a quality to meet the approval of housewives and build up a business in the area.
Jack relates the story that Lewis Brothers’ Bakery was refused credit by several wholesale firms and that the first ten bags of flour were purchased from the Robert Choate Feed and Flour Company, on charge account.
Additional bakery supplies were purchased from another firm on charge account and a truck was bought from Van Crane with no down payment and, the firm of Lewis Brothers Bakery was in business.
Lewis Brothers’ Bakery produced Milk-Maid bread baked in a homemade brick oven, had only a slow speed mixer and a dough break, and moulded and wrapped bread by hand.
Home makers at that time sliced their own bread. A. C. and “Cotton” Lewis baked bread at night, delivered bread during morning hours and slept during the afternoon, an around-the-clock routine necessitated by the lack of funds to employ others to work in the bakery.
The baking business expanded within a few months and a building was erected especially for the bakery at 111 North Main Street in Anna, the present location of the Daniels Market.
The bakery was moved into this location in January, 1926, and entirely new equipment was installed. The new equipment made possible an hourly production of 500 loaves of bread, which was baked in a coke-fired Peel oven having a capacity of 275 loaves.
Ora Davis of Anna had joined the staff as a baker prior to the move into the new location and the firm opened a retail department with Miss Rose Jackson as sales lady. Miss Jackson remained with the firm for twenty five years.
Delivery service soon demanded the addition of a second truck and the three Lewis Brothers continued with their strenuous task of supplying bread to their growing list of customers. Business at the Anna bakery expanded to the extent where it was deemed advisable to bring Cotton Lewis back to Anna and the bakery in Carbondale was re-sold to Mr. Ebb. Expansion of business required additional space and the front section of the A. A. Crowell building, at 200 North Main Street, was rented.
This was only one room but provided more space than the former location.
An additional oven was installed and a new mixer. Bread was no longer moulded by hand nor wrapped by hand as Lewis Brothers were now in a financial position to purchase an-automatic moulder and wrapper.
The staff had increased to seven employees in the bakery and four bread routes had been established.
Again expansion of business demanded more space and the entire section of the Crowell building was rented, two additional trucks were placed in service.
Production increased to 1000 loaves an hour and a relative increase in production of cakes.
The year 1941 saw Lewis Brothers’ Bakery reaching an expansion of business which permitted the purchase of the Crowell building.
During the early months of occupancy of this location the name of Lewis Brothers was changed to Butternut and Big Boy bread was also added to the line of bakery products.
Business was so well established at this time that the Lewis Brothers could “come up for air,” cease their round-the-clock work and participate in civic affairs and social activities.
A.C. Lewis was elected Mayor of the city of Anna in 1943 and became a member of several clubs and organizations.
The bakery had a fleet of five trucks with Jack driving one truck and the other drivers were, Lewis Fite, Ernest Coffman, Frank Ziegler and Gibb Hileman.
The three brothers at this time formed a partnership in reality, although the partnership had been established many years ago when co-operation was about the establishing of a prosperous business. A.C. was afflicted with a serious illness which resulted in his death, May 8, 1944, and Jack became manager of the bakery.
The financial arrangements following the death of A.C. Lewis resulted in the building becoming the property of Mrs. A.C. Lewis and son Charles Lewis. Jack Lewis became sole owner of the bakery.
The year 1945 brought the decision to again expand by establishing a bakery in Carbondale and a bakery was established on South Illinois Avenue and was operated until 1947 when it was sold to Fred Sobery.
Charles Lewis returned to Anna following discharge from the service with the armed forces and was made sales manager of the bakery and in 1947 Lewis Brothers’ Bakery formed a corporation with R.J. Lewis as president, Charles Lewis as vice-president and Josephine Lewis as secretary-treasurer.
Production of bread required additional equipment and a sixteen-tray traveling oven was added, also two bread wrapping machines and other equipment.
Lewis Brothers’ Bakery was now operating on twelve routes and employed fifty persons with production increased to 75,000 loaves bread weekly and production of cakes had more than doubled causing, the firm again to contemplate adding of additional sales territory and the Harrisburg area was included in the Lewis Brothers’ sale area with a distribution station built in Harrisburg in 1950 and six trucks were operated from this station.
Management of a bakery and the necessity of compliance with certain rules in baking brought about a membership of Lewis Brothers’ Bakery with the C.P. Patterson Laboratories, Kansas City, Mo. an organization of independent bakers joined with the purpose of sharing ideas for improved bakery products.
It is through the services of these laboratories that bakeries receive an analysis of each load of flour to be used at bakeries and the laboratories score the bread of each bakery weekly to assure production and quality meet the highest standards.
A bakery, in order to be a member of the group, is compelled to produce high quality bread which will score in quality between 87 and 92 consistently.
It was with the C.J. Patterson Laboratories association that the familiar “Bunny” was first conceived, a “Bunny” whose picture appears on each loaf of Lewis Brothers Butternut.
“Bunny” became so popular and well known throughout the entire territory that consumers began to call for “Bunny” bread and the decision was reached that the trade name “Bunny” should be used on Lewis Brothers’ Bakery products.
The year 1950 found the Lewis Brothers’ Bakery expanded beyond the capacity of its location and plans were necessary to build with the idea that a location would be most suitable near the city limits rather than in the heart of Anna’s business section.
Purchase was made of property occupied by the Anna Tractor and Equipment Company, located at the intersection of highways 146 and 51 at the eastern city limits.
Plans at first included remodeling of the building but these plans were later abandoned and the decision made to construct an all brick and tile building, with floor, walls and ceiling suited to top sanitary conditions.
The engineering department of the C.J. Patterson Laboratories was consulted and plans and blue prints completed, for a building which would house equipment suited to production of 4000 loaves bread hourly with increased cake production.
Construction of the building was begun with excavation by the Dale Denny Construction machinery. J.D. Rayburn of Anna was employed as superintendent of construction, John Coffman of Anna as superintendent of brick layers, Fred Cunningham of Anna in installation of electrical equipment, Harold Gordon of Anna for plumbing and heating installation and Campbell and Denny of Anna in transporting of crushed stone from the Anna Quarries, Inc.
The Neal Brothers of Mt. Vernon supplied roofing material and other materials were secured from West Brothers, Ligon Lumber Company, Anna-Jonesboro Lumber and Joe Baker of Anna laid the asphalt tile floors in the offices.
J. Malone Company of Memphis laid the tile for the brick floors of the bakery department.
The new brick building, with its glazed tire outer walls and many windows, is one of the most attractive buildings in southern Illinois and houses one of the most progressive bakeries in the mid-west.
The bakery’s floors, walls and ceiling are as smooth and sanitary and smoothest of porcelain.
Equipment and ovens are as sanitary as can be found in any bakery in the country and exceeds many bakeries in this respect.
Lewis Brothers’ Bakery now has a fleet of 23 trucks and an enrollment of seventy employees. Capacity now exceeds 200,000 units with products of the bakery sold through all of southern Illinois.
This low, attractive building stands at the intersection of two well traveled highways and standing high atop the building, is the blazing sign in neon lights, “The Home of Bunny Bread.”
A neon-lighted “Bunny” stands above the entire structure showing a wide Bunny grin and gaily wigging its ears to all passers-by, a symbol of the progress of three young men who dared enter the area and open a business venture with nothing but a true knowledge of baking, a knowledge which grew with experience, to result in an enviable bakery business unexcelled in the mid-west.
Visit the home of Bunny Bread, Sunday, April 6, 1952.