Stories from the NFCCA Newsletter, the “Northwood News”

Northwood News ♦ February 2012

Woodmoor Reminiscences

Woodmoor Pastry Shop Indulges for Almost 50 Years

By Jacquie Bokow

JoAnna Gray has noticed quite a few changes at Woodmoor Shopping Center.  For almost 50 years she has worked at the business run by her family, Woodmoor Pastry Shop, first as a cake decorator and for the past dozen years or so as the owner.

The Pastry Shop has made changes, too.  “We stay with the times, more or less,” said Gray.  That has meant a little healthlier line of products, like bruschetta and mini pizzas, and all of their baked goods have zero grams of trans fat.  “And we can now make cookies with pictures on them,” she stated.

JoAnna Gray in 1980, left, when she was the cake decorator and in 2012, right, now the owner of the family business.

Gray noted that families are smaller than they were 50 years ago, and the shop makes more individual desserts that it used to.  “We were making cupcakes long before they [became so] popular,” Gray said.

Two other newer items that are in demand are King Cakes, which took off after Hurricane Katrina, and Paczki, a Polish jelly doughnut.

The shop has a staff of 25 right now, 10 of whom are high school students from Blair, Northwood, and Blake.  Gray herself is a 1965 graduate of Northwood and likes the area so much that she and her husband, James, bought a home in Woodmoor; their son Jason teaches at Northwood.  “This area has great camaraderie,” she added.

All of the items they sell are baked at the shop, she assured me.  The only things they don’t make are the fruit, etc., that they have to buy.

What Residents Think

A flood of responses resulted when I asked long-time residents to send in what they liked best about Woodmoor Pastry Shop.

The Woodmoor Pastry Shop has been called a “local treasure.”

“They used to have a little ice cream freezer where you could get green mint Eskimo Pies,” said Jean Jones [formerly of Belton Road].  “Plus, I have been to the Parker House in Boston several times, and the Parker House rolls there are not nearly as good as the ones at the Woodmoor Bakery.”

“I remember getting my birthday cakes from Woodmoor Pastry Shop as a child under 10” in the 1950s, wrote Judith Vann [on Marvin Road “right out of the hospital in 1950” and back there now].  “I especially remember one that was round and had carousel decorations on it, with carousel sugar horses.  It was great!

Bette Brotman Dolan [formerly of Malta Lane] vividly remembers picking up her 10th birthday cake from there.  “I insisted on carrying it myself.  I made it to the front door and ran into the door jamb; down went the cake!  My mother screamed at me and a woman who worked there — to this day I don’t know if she was the owner or just an employee — came out of nowhere with an identical cake with my name already on it.  Seriously, it could not have been more than five minutes; I was still trying to wipe up the mess on the floor with napkins!

“When I got to be about 16, I went back and asked everyone there if they remembered the story.  I thought it was time to tell that woman how she had saved my party and what a kind thing she had done, [but] no one would admit to remembering it!”

On holidays, the line of customers at Woodmoor Pastry Shop awaiting freshly baked Parkerhouse rolls runs out the door.

“When I was little, we would wake up and my grandfather (who we called Jiggs) would have let himself in and would be sitting at the kitchen table with a box of chocolate doughnuts from Woodmoor,” remarked Hilary Sherman [Kerwin Road].  “There is nothing better than to wake up to a chocolate doughnut from Woodmoor Bakery and Jiggs.  Needless to say, I cannot even go to Woodmoor shopping center in the mornings, because if I smell the doughnuts, I have to have one (or two).”

Woodmoor Pastry Shop has been the “go-to” bakery for special events in the lives of local residents, like the surprise 35th anniversary party held in 1982 by Janet Nagler [Lombardy Road] and her sisters for their parents. “We got a beautiful cake,” she said.

More recent experiences were related, too.  In 2009, for his son’s first birthday party (which was held at the North Four Corners Park building), Jeremy Birch [Malta Lane] ordered a dinosaur cake from Woodmoor.  “It was probably the best cake I have ever had,” he declared.  “I wouldn’t hesitate to order more from them.  Their coffee cakes are wonderful, too.”

Special memories come from Judy Starobin Okenfuss [formerly of Malta Lane], who worked at the shop when she was a student at Northwood High School in the late 1970s.  “I always enjoyed opening the shop on Saturday mornings.  When you arrived, the doughnuts were just coming out of the oven and had the most wonderful smell (and taste)!  We, the sales girls, were responsible for filling the jelly doughnuts, which invariably made a mess as we would overfill and explode some.”

Judy Starobin Okenfuss worked at the Woodmoor Pastry Shop on St. Patrick’s Day around 1979 when she was a student at Northwood.  [Photo courtesy of Judy Starobin Okenfuss.]

“Any regular to Woodmoor Pastry Shop during that time will remember JoAnna Gray,” she continues.  “She was always in the back room wearing an apron covered with every color icing imaginable.  The holidays were absolutely amazing.  The number of advance orders was overwhelming.  I was always amazed with the sheer number of pies which were boxed and sold on those days. It seemed like everywhere in the bakery was piled high with boxes.

“Working there was great.  While we were at work, we were allowed to eat as much baked goods as we cared to.  To this day, there is nothing I enjoy more for breakfast than a chocolate iced doughnut, like we use to sell at Woodmoor Pastry Shop.”

It seems everyone who frequents the Pastry shop has their own favorites.  For Valerie Stutman Portney [formerly of Chiswell Lane], it was the apple pie and strudel.  She called it “the best strudel in Montgomery County.”

“We used to stop in fairly frequently after attending the 9 a.m. Mass at St. Bernadette’s for my husband’s favorite — the sticky buns and the onion rye bread — and mine — the cranberry and blueberry scones,” confides Evelyn Jemionek [Margate Road].

Eclairs and cream puffs.

“Our family loves Woodmoor Pastry Shop!” exclaimed Jennifer Lauver [Northwood Ave.].  “We love to occasionally stop in for a seasonally themed cookie for the kids.  All of my daughters’ birthday cakes and cupcakes have been made there and they have all been very cool designs and delicious.  The mini pizzas are my husband’s favorite.  The women who work there are so friendly and nice, especially the owner.  She has always been wonderful to work with on the crazy ideas I have for my daughters’ birthday themes.  Oh and yes, the parkerhouse rolls are delicious, too.”

Laura Serrano [Timberwood Ave., where she grew up and moved back to about 10 years ago] added, “We also are huge fans.  I grew up here and have a special place for them [in my heart].  They have the best ├ęclairs that I’ve ever had.  Their hot dog and burger buns are great, too.”

“They have the best ├ęclairs ever!” agrees Tina Moore [Belton Road].  “We are also huge fans of their Parker house rolls.  I love having them in our neighborhood.”

Paczki, or Polish jelly doughnuts, are a popular item.

Although Bev Hollrah [Ordway Drive] and Edward Levy [Thistle Court] have not had completely good experiences at the bakery, even Ed acknowledged that “their onion rye bread is good.”

But, as Sarah Manchester [Lombardy Road] said, “It’s like your family; who loves everything about their family?  But there are plenty of tasty things to keep me coming back, as well as the familiar faces at the counter.  I grew up in Woodmoor.  It was a weekend tradition to walk to the Pastry Shop and get doughnuts for breakfast.  I’m happy to say that, 30 years later, my childhood favorites — cinnamon twists, apple fritters, and especially the chocolate doughnuts — are still going strong. [And] the rolls and mini-pizzas — yum!”

“I’ve lived in the neighborhood since 2001 and I think the bakery is fabulous,” concluded Oscar Carrillo [Marvin Road], whose boys really like the King Cakes for Mardi Gras and the epiphany feast on January 6th.  “We are lucky to have a family-owned bakery in our neighborhood.”   ■

[JoAnna Gray passed away on Thursday, 23 March 2017, at the age of 70.  —Editor]

   © 2012 NFCCA  [Source:]