For the past 66 years, Community Bakery has been the hub of the South Main community. If you think SOMA is cool now, it cool before SOMA was SOMA. It is the OG of SOMA, the true community gathering spot of the surrounding community. In that sense the name is perfect.
Community Bakery opened in the Rose City neighborhood of North Little Rock in 1947. A few years later in 1952 owner Ralph Hinson moved it to South Main. Hinson sold it to his cake decorator Agnes Bargiel, who then later sold the business to current owner Joe Fox while remaining on to decorate cakes. The stability of the face behind the community and the bakery has remained relatively stable compared to other 70+-year-old businesses. Especially considering the large overlap with Agnes Bargiel’s time.
If you frequent Community Bakery though you will recognize a new face behind the counter. That face comes with a bow tie, a big beard, and always a smile, and belongs to John Brandenberger.
Brandenberger moved to the Quapaw area 15 years ago and immediately fell in love with the bakery.
“Community Bakery was the first restaurant of any sort that I visited in Little Rock,” Brandenberger says. “I immediately fell in love with the pastries and the warm welcoming environment here. Ever since that first day, it has been a frequent place for us to go.”
Brandenberger worked a long career with Dillards as the store manager for the Park Plaza location and later also working on customer service training and development for the company. After over 20 years with the company, which he highly respects, Brandenberger wanted a change of pace. He purchased a partnership in Community Bakery and became the Operations Officer.
“I’ve always had a passion for people. My passion at Dillard’s was rooted in working with people,” Brandenberger explains. “In a lot of ways what I do here is like what I did for Dillard’s. I love that I can get intimate with guest and visit with them in the lobby or behind the counter. I am not a baker, a cook, a chef. I am a people person. So this made a lot of sense with a strong kitchen team, including long time owner Joe Fox, that I can just empower rather than change.”
The changes to the food are very little, and he plans to continue doing what they do well and gather customer feedback about incremental updates they can do to improve.
Where Brandenberger has made a massive change is in the way Community Bakery relates to the surrounding SOMA community. One of the first things Brandenberger did was build relationships with each business along the corridor. For some he started providing Community Bakery products at reasonable rates, for others, he started incorporating their products into Community Bakery. Things like Loblolly ice cream is now in their main ice cream, Rock Town Bourbon now goes into their bourbon glazed products.
Brandenberger is doing everything he can to make Community Bakery the hub of the South Main community and a place to bring everything and everyone together.
“I love the diversity of the area, and I love how Community Bakery reflects that,” Brandenberger tells us. “I grew up in the Bronx, New York. I love being surrounded by different cultures and different people. It is what attracted us to the Quapaw area originally, and what made us fall in love with Community Bakery because it is a direct reflection of the area. The culture and the downtown vibe reminded me of growing up.”
The South Main/Quapaw community has changed a lot in the last 66 years. Brandenberger is going to focus his time and energy on making sure it is not just up with the times but will continue to be a reflection of the area for 60+ years to come.
Be sure to stop in, find the guy with a bow tie and a big smile, and say hi.
1200 Main St