27th Street Bakery Shop
Customers flock to this South Los Angeles bakery for their sweet potato pies.
27th Street Bakery Shop is a third-generation family business founded in South Los Angeles and built on a family heirloom recipe of sweet potato pie.
In 1956, after twenty years as restauranteurs, Harry and Sadie Patterson converted part of their restaurant on 2700 South Central Avenue into a specialty pie shop called Mrs. Harry’s Pies and Cakes. The bakery remains a neighborhood landmark and its current stewards are committed to expanding it for the next generation.
When the Patterson’s established their restaurant in the 1930s, the Central Avenue corridor was the social, cultural, and political center for African Americans in Los Angeles. Deed restrictions and other forms of discrimination prevented Black families from making a life in other neighborhoods, and the availability of nearby defense industry jobs during World War II led to a second wave of settlement.
The Pattersons were originally from Shevreport, Louisiana. They arrived to the neighborhood with generations of family recipes, which proved wildly popular with other newly-arrived African Americans from the South. Their family's recipe for sweet potato pie was their specialty. Along with the usual ingredients of milk, eggs, and butter, their sweet potato pie contains a secret mix of spices. The family still observes fidelity to consistency and quality, which their grandfather stressed. For instance, even though most sweet potatoes in local markets are from Northern California, the family only uses sweet potatoes grown in Louisiana. The family attributes their success to these baking traditions.
When the Pattersons' retired in the 1980s, their daughter, Alberta Craven, and grandchild, Gregory Spann, took over the bakery. They renamed the business 27th Street Bakery after its Central Avenue intersection. The mother-and-son partners continued to follow the family's heirloom recipes and baking traditions, while innovating as a wholesale business.
Currently, third-generation family members, Denise, Jeanette, and Albert are running the South Los Angeles bakery. They split the management of the business in three ways. Denise Craven-Perchaul, the Pattersons' granddaughter, leads the retail side of the restaurant. Her sister, Jeanette Bolden-Pickens, oversees its wholesale operations, and Albert Pickens – Jeanette's husband – manages the supplies and equipment. Bolden-Pickens explains the bakery belongs to the whole extended family, and everyone does whatever is required to keep the business running well.
Over the decades, many family members have contributed to the legacy of the 27th Street Bakery. Bolden-Pickens points out that Gregory's Old-Fashioned Pecan Pie is named after her late brother and invented by her brother-in-law. Likewise, the Alberta pie is named after her mother. Bolden-Pickens and her family do not doubt that there will be a fourth-generation to carry on the family legacy. Many teenage family members come in to the bakery after school to help, as she once did. Other family members help during the busy holiday seasons.
For its decades-long employees and especially the Patterson descendants, the 27th Street Bakery is a source of support and purpose. For Bolden-Pickens, the family business is her third career. She is a Gold Medal winner of the Women's 4 X 400-meter Relay at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. She partially credits her work ethic to her family's entrepreneurial spirit. "I had asthma as a child, but my mother, aunt, and grandparents all told me not to let anything stop me. I could do anything," she recalls. She eventually retired from her career as an athlete after she injured herself during the 1988 Summer Olympics. She then returned to UCLA to coach the Women's track team for nearly two decades. In 2006, Bolden-Pickens was the U.S. Women's Head Coach for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games and the first Olympic head coach to have been an Olympic Gold Medalist. She went on to coach for another decade. However, when illness struck her family, Bolden-Pickens proudly stepped in to continue the family's business. UCLA's Center for Oral History Research interviewed 27th Street Bakery's Jeanette Bolden-Pickens in 2018. To link to recording, click here.
Despite the current COVID-19 pandemic challenges, the family is focused on the next steps to grow their business. Bolden Pickens says that they've recently received a $10,000 small business grant from PayPal's Empowerment Grants for Black Businesses Program and have plans to replace tired kitchen equipment. Within the next year, Bolden-Pickens also wants to secure special licensing to take government wholesale orders. On the baking front, she shares, "We just started making tea cakes," and explains, "It's a cookie and biscuit cross. It's thicker and not as sweet. People love them! We had a taste test, and we're developing more products with the [family's] sweet potato mix recipe."
Councilmember Curren Price of the Ninth District, honored the 27th Street Bakery with a square dedication along the historic Central Avenue corridor in 2018. To take a peak at the bakery's 60 year+ oven, check out CBS LA's Landmark South L.A. Bakery Working Around The Clock to Meet Sweet Demand.
Special thanks to Cynthia Sanchez for her contributions to this page.