Can you give us a brief history of some of these familiar bakeries: Leidenheimer, Gendusa (John and Angelo), Binder and Reising's?
At one time, New Orleans boasted 200 French bread bakers. Today, the number has dwindled to three, and none was founded by a Frenchman.
The oldest of those companies still in existence was created by George H. Leidenheimer, a German immigrant who came to New Orleans in the mid-19th century. About 1885, he went into business with the Reuter Baking Company, but after a few years, Reuter went off on his own to form the Sunrise Bakery. Leidenheimer started his own company in 1896.
The breads he originally produced were the heavy, dense, brown breads of his native Germany, but he found fame when he turned out the bread that we know today for its crisp crust and light center. Initially his bakery was located on Dryades Street, but in 1904 it moved to Simon Bolivar Avenue, where Leidenheimer's descendants still operate the business.
Another baker, George Reising, came to town about the same time as Leidenheimer, and in 1885 Reising formed his own bakery and later bought out the Sunrise Bakery. These competitors — Leidenheimer and Reising — came to an agreement. Reising would sell his loaves below Canal Street in the French Quarter, and Leidenheimer would sell his bread above Canal Street. Both companies were very successful, but the Reising Bakery eventually was sold to Harold Salmon in 1982. Leidenheimer purchased it two years later.
The second-oldest French bread bakery is that of Alois J. Binder. Opened in 1916, it is located at 940 Frenchmen St. at the edge of the French Quarter. The bakery's slogan is "The Happy Baker with the Light Brings You Hot French Bread," and it fulfills that promise 365 days a year.
Another well-known baking family was the Gendusas. Like many others, the Gendusa family emigrated from Sicily in 1896. Emanuel Gendusa became proprietor of the City Park Bakery, and two of his sons, Angelo and John, worked with him in the early days.
In 1934, Angelo opened his own bakery, called Gendusa's. Seventy years later, in 2004, Leidenheimer's purchased this company as well. During its heyday, Gendusa's bakery on Rampart Street supplied some of the best-known restaurants in the city, including Antoine's and Arnaud's, as well as about 70 others.
Gendusa and his brother John were partners in the bakery for a while, but they separated and John opened his own bread-making business. Today, John Gendusa's bakery is still in business at 2009 Mirabeau Ave. and has a particular claim to distinction. Back in 1929, New Orleans restaurateurs/brothers Bennie and Clovis Martin created the beloved po-boy sandwich during a streetcar strike. The brothers pledged to feed striking men at their sandwich and coffee stand. Whenever they saw one of the fellows coming along, they would say, "Here comes another poor boy."
At the time, John Gendusa was supplying the bread for the Martin Brothers' restaurant, and at their request he changed the shape of the loaf. To accommodate the filling for the po-boy sandwiches, he made the loaf wider and without pointed tips. Traditional French bread had narrow ends, which meant much of the bread was wasted. Gendusa created a 40-inch loaf that stayed rectangular from end to end.
This is a city in love with po-boy sandwiches, and almost everyone will tell you "it's the bread" that makes them so good. On the side of Leidenheimer trucks, Bunny Matthews' iconic cartoon characters Vic and Nat'ly tell us to "Sink ya teeth into a piece of New Orleans cultcha."