Harry Tsakalos, co-founder of H&S Bakery, dies

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Harry Tsakalos, who put the "H" in H&S Bakery and helped build the company he co-founded into a baking empire that's the largest supplier of McDonald's buns, died Thursday at his Harbor East residence. Family members said he had had Alzheimer's disease for several years. He was 93.

Family and friends recalled Mr. Tsakalos on Friday as a pillar in the Greek community. The son of immigrants, he loved his work and was noted for his warmth, simplicity and generosity.

"He was more comfortable with a broom in his hand than he was with meeting the politicians," said a grandson, Michael Tsakalos of Hunt Valley. "He was happiest when he was working at the bakery with his family. If he wasn't sweeping the loading dock on Bond Street, he was asking the employees about their families."

What would become an industrial anchor of the Southeast Baltimore waterfront began when Mr. Tsakalos met Isidore "Steve" Paterakis at another bakery. They began by purchasing Olga and Son Bakery in East Baltimore in 1943, reopening under the name H&S, the letters representing their first names.

H&S Bakery has grown into one of the largest bakers on the East Coast, producing more than 100 varieties of breads, rolls and specialty items, according to his grandson. A subsidiary, Northeast Foods Inc., has been a major supplier to McDonald's since 1965 and is now the fast-food chain's largest supplier of buns in the U.S.

Mr. Tsakalos was born in Vandergrift, Pa., and raised in Weirton, W.Va., his grandson said.

The family moved to Baltimore in 1936, and he worked as a truck driver for Athens Bakery, where he met Mr. Paterakis, who was a baker. Through him, Mr. Tsakalos met his future wife, Mr. Paterakis' daughter, Liberty. They were married in 1942 and had their only child, Nicholas Tsakalos, the following year.

"He came through the Great Depression and World War II," his grandson said. "He knew hard work, and he knew that hard work had its rewards."

Today H&S Bakery employs more than 2,000, according to a company website, and deploys a fleet of hundreds of delivery vans and tractor-trailers that are familiar sights on Baltimore's roads. The website boasts that "many of its products are still hearth baked for traditional European flavor and crust."

In the early days, the bakery worked out of a South Fagley Street rowhouse, according to a family history. Mr. Paterakis, his wife, Kyriaki, and their son, John, made Italian bread by hand and baked it in a brick, flat-hearth oven. Mr. Tsakalos drove the company's sole delivery truck, handling all wholesale and home delivery service.

Steve Paterakis died in 1953 as the bakery was continuing to attract customers.

John Paterakis was 23 when he inherited his father's interest in the bakery, according to the company website. He has since expanded his business interests in Baltimore and developed Harbor East.

According to a 1993 Baltimore Sun article, H&S Bakery won a major account, the old Harley's sandwich shops. Soon the bakery signed up two supermarket chains, Food Fair and Acme, and supplied goods to Rice's and Bond bakeries.

Michael Tsakalos said that his grandfather would often meet the bread deliverers and route salesmen as they brought their trucks back to the Southeast Baltimore plant. He helped settle their daily accounts.

"He was a hands-on man who managed the plant," said his daughter-in-law, Jeanne Tsakalos of Phoenix in Baltimore County. "He was also the treasurer of the business. He had a good head for business."

Mr. Tsakalos was a parishioner of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation in Baltimore. He and his extended family were responsible for the establishment of the Annunciation Orthodox Center and other projects.

"He was one of the most generous and down-to-earth gentlemen I've ever met," said his pastor, the Very Rev. Constantine Moralis. "He was caring and compassionate, and had a strong feeling for his family and the church."

The pastor said that Mr. Tsakalos was "one of the pillars" of Baltimore's Greek-American community. In 1981, he was given the title of Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, one of the highest awards offered to a layman.

Attorney Peter G. Angelos, majority owner of the Baltimore Orioles, issued a statement saying Mr. Tsakalos would be "deeply missed by all who knew him."

"Harry was deeply committed to his family," Mr. Angelos said, "dedicated to his profession as a successful businessman, and was a great contributor to his beloved community."

Christopher Tsakalos, another grandson who lives in Phoenix, said, "He was a humble giant who had a heart of gold. He and my grandmother worked so much, they ate out every night. They dressed in their work clothes, too."

Christopher Tsakalos recalled that Monday was Sabatino's, Tuesday was Haussner's and Wednesday was the Acropolis, Michael's Steak and Lobster, Ikaros or Jimmy's Seafood. Sundays were spent at church and at home.

"If he saw a cousin or an employee at a restaurant, he would pick up their tab," his grandson said.

"He was one of the most beautiful people you ever met," said Xenos Kohilas, co-owner of Ikaros, "as big a heart as could be, as generous as could be, as kind as could be."

His grandson Christopher Tsakalos said his grandparents lived for decades in a Highland Avenue rowhouse, adding that "he was not a flashy person."

Mr. Tsakalos owned a hunting lodge in western Pennsylvania. "He went a few times a year but he didn't do much actual hunting. He liked being in the wilderness, but after a while he was happy to get back to the bakery," said Michael Tsakalos.

Funeral services will be at 10:30 a.m. Monday at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation, Maryland Avenue and Preston Street.

Mr. Tsakalos is also survived by his wife of 70 years, Liberty Paterakis Tsakalos; a son, Nicholas Tsakalos of Phoenix; a brother, James Tsakalos of Aberdeen; another grandson; and four great-grandchildren.

Baltimore Sun reporter Timothy B. Wheeler contributed to this article.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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