in fifth grade, I had some level of awareness that white bread was
not the healthiest thing for a kid to eat. Not that it ever stopped
me, but still...
Three years earlier, my mother had returned to college to finish her
undergraduate degree. One day she came home from class, presumably
a health or nutrition course for education majors, and pronounced
to her wide-eyed eight-year-old that white bread was worthless. "It
just balls up in your stomach," she said as I instinctively clutched
mine. That teachable moment from childhood up a conundrum I have never
resolved: How can something that tastes so good be so bad for you?
Despite my mother's grim pronouncement, jelly and butter sandwiches
made with Austin-baked ButterKrust
bread, lovingly wrapped in wax paper and kept fresh in a vented metal
Lone Ranger lunch box, had been providing me with empty but tasty
calories from kindergarten on. Shoot, by first grade I had even stopped
demanding that the crust be cut off my sandwiches.
As a chubby fifth grader, I had grown (quite literally) to appreciate
all the alluring nuances of white bread. A slice could be slathered
in butter and sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon for toasting, covered
in flour gravy as a side dish with Sunday fried chicken or just eaten
fresh from the kitchen counter bread box. You know, the one next to
the radio. I had come to truly understand that something had to be
danged impressive indeed to be declared "the best thing since sliced
Naturally, I needed no persuading one cold evening in November 1959
when Mother asked if I'd like to tour the just-opened ButterKrust
plant on Airport Boulevard in then far north Austin.
Marked by a large lighted "ButterKrust" sign that stood out in red
letters like a beacon for the hungry, the state-of-the-art facility
featured big plate glass windows on two sides so that passersby could
observe the baking process from dough to loaf if so inclined. Watching
was a choice, but it was impossible to be anywhere in that part of
town and not smell the hundreds of loaves baking inside at any given
That comforting, magnificent smell, obviously even more intense on
the interior of the plant, has never faded from my olfactory memory.
If only the aroma of fresh-baked bread permeated the world's atmosphere,
surely lasting peace for all would be at hand.
On this night, the bakery was hosting an open house. Hundreds of Austinites
had shown up for a cook's tour that proved both interesting and appetite
building. At the end of each tour everyone got a mini-loaf of hot-from-the-oven
bread. Unhealthy as it was, that wonderfully nose-pleasing hunk of
white bread could not have lasted more than a minute. Visitors also
got more lasting souvenirs-a booklet on bread as the staff of life
and a wooden ButterKrust ruler.
venerable Texas company founded in San
Antonio in 1882 by William Louis Richter and his new bride Emma,
its owners not only knew how to bake good bread, they knew what makes
for successful marketing and community relations. While grownups were
the ones who bought their product, the company grew their customer
base from grade school up by offering field trips at their bakeries.
Too, the company posted eye-catching advertising signs urging drivers
to slow down in school zones.
In addition, at the beginning of each school year, we were issued
a set of ButterKrust textbook covers. Printed on brown paper, the
covers featured Little Miss Gingham, a coyly smiling girl with long
eyelashes and a gingham bow in her wavy blonde hair. Of course, she
held a loaf of ButterKrust bread. By sixth grade, she was beginning
to look about as intriguing to my male classmates and I as the bread
in her hands.
On the covers beneath Little Miss Gingham, the then well-known brand
name was featured in white letters inside a red oval. Alas, though
I would grow up to make a living off words, it was someone else who
discovered the sixth-grade humor in using a red marker to obliterate
the "erK" in ButterKrust to make your textbook cover read "Butt rust."
Unappetizing as that sounds, ButterKrust bread had been a staple in
the Capital City long before I became a consumer.
When ButterKrust first came to Austin
in the fall of 1923, the company built a plant at 300 Lamar overlooking
the Colorado River. It adjoined the railroad tracks for ease in off-loading
all the flour and other ingredients that went into the city's daily
bread. By the late 1950s, Austin
was growing and ButterKrust positioned itself to rise with it. Construction
of a much larger plant off Airport Boulevard began in November 1958
and was finished about a year later. The old facility was sold to
For those who actually grew up in Austin
as opposed to moving in from California, it seemed impossible that
there could ever be an Austin
without ButterKrust. But in 1997, the terrible news came. The ButterKrust
bakery would be shutting down, the brand corporately absorbed by FlowersFoods.
By then, no matter all the ButterKrust bread I had eaten over the
years, I had managed to reach middle age. But perpetually young and
cute Little Miss Gingham had been relegated to obscurity. White bread
trucked in from distant bakeries tastes okay, but it will never measure
up to that hot mini-loaf of ButterKrust bread enjoyed on that long
ago fall night.