Master Baker Robbie Lee Stone: How $5 Turned Into Running a Bakery for 40 Years by Melissa Vickers
My grandfather was a baker. He started working as a delivery boy for Benson’s Bakery in Athens, Ga., when he was just 10 years old. By 1938, he was the Vice President and Bread Foreman. When the U.S. entered WWII, the owner of a local bakery, the A&A, enlisted and wanted to sell the bakery. Papa was the only person he trusted. “I don’t have money to buy the bakery!” And the owner said he’d sell it for $5. Sold! He would run that bakery for the next 40 years.
Photo: Robbie Lee Stone
During the war, the U.S. Army came to Papa and asked if he would become the official bread baker for the Army. He turned them down, saying he didn’t have enough education for the job. His formal schooling stopped with 8th grade, but he vastly underestimated what he’d learned outside the classroom.
Photo: Benson’s Bakery. This was part of a full-page ad they had in the Athens Banner Herald in 1938.
Papa could take a slice of bread and sample it and tell you what was in the bread, what was right about it and what needed improving. Sometimes I’d go with him to visit bakeries and he’d want to sample the bread. (I was more interested in the cookies and cakes.) I had him sample my first loaf of bread when I was a teenager, and he struggled between wanting to encourage his granddaughter and giving me an honest assessment of what looked, felt, and likely tasted like an oversized hockey puck.
Photo: UGA 150th cake. This was on the cover of the Georgia Alumni Record, spring 1984.
Papa ran the A&A until he had a stroke at age 81. Not only was he known for his bread, but also his cakes. The University of Georgia (just across the main road from the bakery) called on him for cakes for all occasions, including UGA’s 150th anniversary. He made cakes that appeared in one of Kenny Rogers’ Gambler movies, and he made our wedding cake –decorated by my grandmother, whose icing roses were like I’ve never seen before or since.
Photo: Our wedding cake with my grandparents (and us). There’s a tale that goes with that one. (There’s a reason that the yellow on the top tier doesn’t match the yellow on the bottom two tiers. )
Papa was a well-known figure in Athens, known for his baked goods, but also his willingness to help people. I know I can attribute more than a few fat cells to treats from the bakery, and I hope I inherited at least a little of his integrity and generosity. I wish I had inherited his bread-making ability!
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