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Our First Family Business: Lessons Learned in Retrospect

Wm. Peppler Bakery - New York City

A guest post by Big Bill Peppler

Recently, I found a picture of my great-great grandfather's business, the Wm. Peppler Bakery, which was located in New York City at the turn of the 20th century. As I stared at that picture, I got to thinking about just how much business has changed since his time, some 110+ years ago. My curiosity prompted me to ask my father if he had any background information on the family bakery, and he provided me with bits and pieces of information that he acquired over the years.

The good ol’ days

As the story goes, my great-great grandfather emigrated from Germany’s Bavaria region to the United States. He arrived in New York City as a trained and experienced baker, and he had no problem finding employment. Initially, he worked at a local bakery, saving whatever extra cash that he could in hopes of one day opening his own bakery and confectionary. After a few years had passed, he did just that, and the Wm. Peppler Bakery was founded.

The bakery produced quality breads, cakes, pastries, and candies. In those days, recipes were committed to memory, and very little was written down. A cash box was used to take payment and make change. Customer service was of utmost importance, as word of mouth was the primary means of advertising.

Back then, staffing was not a problem, as there were many able bodied young men and women eagerly seeking the opportunity to learn a life-long trade. Job satisfaction was achieved when the hard day’s work (often 12 to 14 hours) was done, and all the baked goods and candies were sold before they went stale.

The bakery thrived for many years, but when his only son, my great-grandfather, George Washington Peppler, elected to pursue another line of work, the Wm. Peppler Bakery eventually closed its doors.

Modern times paint a very different picture

Fast forward to today, and things are very different. There are not many local, independent bakeries around anymore. Most people purchase their fresh baked goods at a chain supermarket that is owned by a large conglomerate. A look around the bakery area reveals digitized ovens, automated measuring devices, and (something we all take for granted) air conditioning. Recipes are stored on computers, and not much is done by hand anymore.

Cash and coin are no longer the standard means of payment. Instead, sophisticated point-of-sale computers process credit cards, debit cards, and gift cards with exacting precision, communicating over the airwaves with banks, creditors, administrators, and marketers. Inventories are instantaneously adjusted, and vendor orders may even be placed automatically, without much human input.

These days, my great-great grandfather might have even had to wait out a non-compete agreement before opening his own bakery (OK, extreme example for a baker, but true for many industries these days). Good help isn’t as easy to come by, as the mentality of developing a life-long trade has long since faded away. Those 14 hour days are also a thing of the past, restricted now by wage and hour laws that didn’t exist back then.

Lessons learned

Technology is a wonderful thing that has granted us abilities and conveniences that my great-great grandfather’s generation never would have dreamed possible. However, those technological gains have, in many cases, been offset by a shift in our collective mentality. Work ethic isn’t what it once was, and today’s occupational pride and customer service are at critically low levels.

Though many decades have passed since the Wm. Peppler Bakery closed, along with untold thousands of businesses owned and operated by hard working men and women from yesteryear, there are lessons to be learned from my great-great grandfather’s story. Most importantly; there is no substitute for good old fashioned hard work. The American Dream that our forefathers sacrificed to achieve is available to all of us. It is incumbent upon each of us to work hard to achieve that ideal and pass it on to the next generation.

Who knows? Maybe one day, 110 years from now, my great-great grandson will write an article just like this one.


I never met my great-great grandfather, or his son for that matter, but I had the opportunity to know my grandfather, and I learned from him the importance of hard work, family, and treating people with respect and dignity. Though my grandfather was not a baker by profession, he did make a mean cheesecake and great homemade ice cream, so maybe some of his grandfather's recipe's were in-fact written down and retained.

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