It’s hard to miss the giant loaf of Franz bread spinning atop a building in Northeast Portland’s Kerns neighborhood.
The sign was originally installed in 1956. But the story behind it is far older.
Engelbert Franz was 15 years old when he left his home in Austria + headed to the United States in 1896. His mission? To find a good job.
Engelbert started working at his uncle’s bakery at East 7th Avenue + East Burnside Street in Portland, known at the time as United States Bakery. Engelbert’s two brothers joined him over the next three years.
In 1906, the brothers had enough dough to buy Ann Arbor Bakery in Northwest Portland, where they made their bread deliveries by horse-drawn wagon. They had saved enough money to buy another bakery — their uncle’s — just a year later.
The trio decided to keep the United States Bakery name and their family-owned business continued to rise. Sales expanded into Salem + The Dalles, and in 1912, they built a new bakery at Northeast 11th Avenue + Northeast Flanders Street that still exists today.
Sometime in the 1920s, the family began to transition to a new business name: Franz Bakery.
Other changes were coming, too. Trucks eventually replaced the horse-drawn delivery wagons, bread started to be sold in paper wrappers, and machinery advancements in the late ‘40s led to huge jumps in productivity. During this time, Franz added a 100-ft-long oven that could bake 2,400 loaves of bread every 28 minutes.
Engelbert died in 1954 at the age of 72. His descendants continued to run the family’s baked goods empire.
Today, Franz has 11 bakeries in seven states and produces a wide variety of products, including organic, vegan + gluten free. Staff once made a hot dog bun that stretched 104 ft. in length (a Guinness World Record at the time) to celebrate the company’s 100th birthday.
Giving back to local communities is Franz’s bread + butter. Every holiday season, the company gives money to people in need and non-profit organizations. It donates $2,500 each to 25 non-profits and $500 to 50 individuals + families, all of whom are nominated by community members.
Times have changed since Franz was established at the turn of the 20th century, but its commitment to adapting + growing hasn’t. With an eye on the environment, Franz has pledged to reduce its use of plastics by 10% by 2023. It’s also cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions by using more sustainable packaging + coming up with innovative ways to reduce waste.
Portland’s unique history never gets stale. The next time you pass the huge loaf of bread perched atop Franz Bakery on Northeast 11th, you’ll see it for what it represents: a business built on family values with a heart for helping others.