Red letter days on Cotton Avenue

May 4, 2014 

Bakery_Sign

When the owners of Nu-Way on Cotton Avenue in Macon uncovered an old bakery sign while repainting their building, they decided to save it.

GRANT BLANKENSHIP/THE TELEGRAPH — gblankenship@macon.com Buy Photo

The 400 block of Cotton Avenue began having “red letter” days a few weeks ago.

Spyros Dermatas and Jim Cacavias, co-owners of the Nu-Way, figured the facade across the four storefronts needed a fresh coat of paint. It hadn’t been touched up in almost a decade.

Some stucco had been replaced in 2007, when the famous neon sign that had been in operation since 1937 received a face lift.

But the old paint was peeling and flaking. (Nu-Way prides itself for its “Famous Flaky Ice.” Not flaky paint.)

Workers were instructed to scrape the layers of old paint and clean it with a pressure wash.

That’s when the red letters started appearing.

It was as if a giant “Wheel of Fortune” board had been placed on the second floor above 424 Cotton Ave., next door to the nation’s second-oldest hot dog restaurant.

There was a “C” up here and a “k” and an “r” down there.

Can I buy a vowel, please?

When the crossword all came together, Dermatas hailed it as “an archeological find.”

“Central Georgia Baking Company” was stenciled across the front of the building. It was written in cursive, which has become a lost art in itself.

It was somewhat ironic and iconic that the remnants of the baking company sign were right beside the most famous neon sign in Macon, where the word “WEINER” has been misspelled in big, block letters for 77 years and is a notable conversation piece in this town.

The Nu-Way owners contacted Steve Hobby, of Macon. His father, Lagrand Hobby, owned the Georgia Baking Co., which was originally known as the Central Georgia Baking Co.

Steve and his wife, Peggy, went downtown to see the sign.

Everyone agreed it was a portal to history.

The archives of the former baking operation are not well-chronicled, but the Hobbys do have an “Accolade of Appreciation” plaque from the state chamber of commerce.

It recognizes the company for its “economic contributions, standards of citizenship and participation in Georgia’s parade of progress since 1869.”

Yes, the company dates back to the end of the War Between the States. In 1951, it moved from Cotton Avenue to 751 Guy Paine Road, across from Armstrong World Industries. Lagrand Hobby died in 1973, and Steve ran the company for four more years before it was purchased by European Bakers, which is now gone, too.

As a boy growing up in the late 1940s, Steve has fond memories of the bakery. He would wander wide-eyed around the glass cases filled with pastries. There were cakes, pies, eclairs and other sweet treats.

Before companies like Merita and Colonial moved in and opened operations, the Georgia Baking Co. was the source of thy daily bread for many Maconites.

And it was quite convenient for Nu-Way to have a bakery next door. In fact, the restaurant had its own bun-slicing machine.

The bread at Georgia Baking would come out of the oven on large sheets and be allowed to cool. It was then passed through a hole in the wall between the two businesses.

You can’t get any fresher than that.

Several businesses have since occupied the downtown building where the bakery was located, including a Maytag dealership. (I guess the Maytag repairman got lonely and moved out.)

The building is now vacant between the restaurant and Nu-Way’s corporate offices. The owners may consider it for future expansion of the restaurant, which only has 39 seats in the dining area (11 stools and 28 booth seats.)

So what is to become of the sign? Cacavias and Dermatas are determined to preserve the past, not cover it up with a coat of paint.

The letters have been retraced in red. The “Central Georgia Baking Company” will live on -- in name only.

I asked Dermatas if anyone driving down Cotton Avenue had stopped, thinking a new bakery has opened.

Not yet, he laughed. Nobody has slammed on the brakes, imagining there must be a “Hot Doughnuts” light in the window.

Folks may not leave with cookies or cake, but at least now they’ll know the story. Yes, we do love our stories.

Reach Gris at 744-4275 or egrisamore@macon.com.

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