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Baker In Focus
38 Pastry & Baking North America
Romney’s gaffe soon blew up the Twittersphere and
“CookieGate” was born. But, where most would see insult,
Walsh saw opportunity and in no time flat the Bethel Bakery
was offering a “CookieGate Special!” – a free half dozen
cookies with the purchase of a dozen cookies. Brilliant!
Additionally, John was making the rounds on national radio,
TV and in newspaper interviews, taking full advantage of the
free publicity. Not that the Bethel Bakery needs the attention as
this Pittsburgh institution has been running at full capacity for
decades satisfying generations of local sweet tooths.
Since Bethel Bakery opened for business in the 1955 in the
South Hills section of Pittsburgh, patrons have made their
way to the shop for the bakery’s signature pastries, cookies,
coffeecakes and one-of-a-kind cakes.
With a number of years of bakery experience, a stint in
the Navy behind him and a small
inheritance, Morris Walsh, with
characteristic determination,
made his dream of owning
his own bakery a reality when
he and a partner opened for
business during the Eisenhower
administration. While his
business partner left the venture
within a few months, Morris
soon gained another associate, his
future wife, Anna.
Together, the couple built
the boutique bakery into one
of the busiest and most beloved
purveyors of high-quality baked
goods in western Pennsylvania. 
And they did it while raising
seven children, all of whom would
eventually work in the family
business.
Today, a second generation
of the Walsh family manages the
bakery. John and his wife, Chris,
took over day-to-day operations
in 1991 and expanded the already
extensive inventory of baked
goods, but Morris and Anna’s legacy of exceptional quality
and customer service lives on.
People travel for miles for a taste of Bethel Bakery’s
signature buttercream icing and discriminating brides across
the region wouldn’t dream of celebrating their nuptials with
anything but a hand-crafted, custom-designed Bethel Bakery
cake decorated by one of the shop’s talented designers.
In an era driven by convenience and competition from
mega-markets and chain stores, Bethel Bakery has endured
because it is far more than just a retailer of baked goods –
it is an memorable destination experience and a nostalgic
reminder of the charms of independent bakeries that were
once part of the fabric of every community.
John Walsh hasn’t let his 15 minutes of fame go to his head
and he was gracious enough to spend some time with us on
our recent visits and what follows is out interview with him at
the much beloved Bethel Bakery.
Bethel Bakery has been in business for over 50 years.
What’s the secret for success?
Offering quality product that can be produced and sold
consistently with care. We have been blessed with a dedicated
team of employees and very loyal customers. You build a
team that wants to work in this industry and appreciate the
company culture. As the owner, you need to do most anything
to maintain your passion for the business and industry. There
are certain meetings, shows and conventions I need to attend
and connect with my peers. There are times the best thing you
can do is leave for a while and let your team remind you just
how well they can run the day to day operation.
Growing up, did you see yourself taking over the family
business or did it just happen that way?
Back in the 50’s and 60’s,
when your Dad owns the
bakery, naturally you started
cleaning pots and pans. I
remember dreading when
I had to scrub out the dry
crusted angel food molds. An
older God loving employee
told me to say a “Hail Mary”
while I cleaned each pan, but
that didn’t console or help my
frustration. As I moved on to
cake decorating, I was more in
my element. After I gradated
from college, I continued
working at the bakery, but I
did not see any opportunity
there. Less than a year after I
graduated, our local bakery
association was beginning
to make plans to host the
national baker’s convention
(RBA) here in Pittsburgh.
I was on the program two
times in decorating sessions
and met a lot of young people
my age in similar situations.
It was in that process of prepping and going to all the
planning meetings for the national convention that the
passion ignited and I new the industry and Bethel Bakery
was for me.
What age were you when you began working in the
shop? What were your first duties? What was your
progression?
At 12 years old, I worked some Sundays for a few hours doing
some cleaning. I remember standing on a bucket at the sink
washing trays. When I turned 14, I went on the payroll at
$1.20 an hour. I always was intrigued by the decorators work
and when I was 14 my Dad started to teach me how to make a
borders and roses. I guess it wasn’t fun for him, but I am glad
he was patient enough to get me thru the beginning stages. I
eventually ran that department, always anxious to experiment
and try new things.