John Paterakis always described himself as “a little Greek baker who got lucky.” But the man who built Baltimore’s H&S Bakery into the nation’s largest privately owned baking company was anything but little.
Born in 1929 to immigrant parents from the island of Chios, John took over his dad Isidoros’ small bakery and set the groundwork for today’s giant, which is the largest provider of hamburger buns and English muffins for McDonald’s.
But Paterakis’ success didn’t stop at baking bread and buns. He was one of the city’s early believers and invested heavily in and developed inner-city land along Baltimore’s waterfront that today hosts numerous hotels, residential towers and hundreds of millions of dollars in real estate development.
But Paterakis’ size wasn’t only seen in business. He was a major philanthropist in the region and supported dozens of political candidates— usually always democrats.
He actively supported numerous charities including local Greek Orthodox churches and even helped build two buildings at Parkville’s Saint Demetrios Church, without asking for any recognition or fame. “He never wanted his name on buildings,” Father Louis Noplos said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun.
Paterakis’ death was mourned by politicians and average citizens, alike.
“John Paterakis Sr. dedicated himself to Baltimore, the city he loved,” Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said. “As a visionary from humble beginnings, he grew his families’ bakery to one of the largest in the nation, all the while growing jobs and opportunity for his city. In the Greek tradition he held dear, he was unwavering in his commitment to his family.”
“Mr. Paterakis believed in Baltimore,” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said. “He was a visionary leader focused on growing Baltimore and his impact can be seen throughout the city.”
In what was perhaps the most fitting closing chapter to the businessman’s life, his casket was driven past the neighborhood where it all began for Paterakis, outside the main buildings of H&S Bakery, where dozens of employees lined the road and tossed flowers on the hearse as it drove by.
Others carried signs with Paterakis’ photograph and the words “Always in our hearts.”
Paterakis went to work at the bakery every day, even as he approached the end of his life, and considered the employees an extension of his family.
John Paterakis was 87 years old.