Thursday, July 17, 2008

Summer vacation

Reilly and Emilia Holbel outside Balkan Bakery. Look closely and you can see the bakery's high-tech security system. (Just click on photo for a larger image.)

Jim Holbel, a Flint Expatriate now living in Atlanta and the former member of Dissonance, recently visited the old hometown with his family and paid a visit to one of Flint's amazing survivors — Balkan Bakery on Dayton Place across from Civic Park School.

Here is Jim's report from the field:

Our kids think Flint is kinda neat, mostly because it seems like a small town to them compared to Atlanta.

We conducted an informal test to determine if the taste for chili dogs is learned or genetic. (I know... Coneys, but that’s not what they are called in ATL.) My son, Reilly, ate a chili dog at Atlanta's legendary Varsity before leaving. During the visit we took him to Angelos. (Have they poured even a penny into that place since 1980?) It was as close to a 'side-by-side' comparison test as one can get. Reilly voted the Angelos Koegel Coney superior, scientifically proving that hot dog appreciation is genetically inherited. I'm thinking I can get a grant for that one.

The visit to Balkan Bakery was just a whim during our drive through. I'm telling you that place is EXACTLY the same inside — same paneling, same display case, same news clippings taped to the wall. Barbara has been there for 38 years. She has pretty good recall of all the old business in that strip, their demise and replacement. I didn't take notes, but if ever you need a bar bet settled she could help.

We drove by all my old schools (Civic Park, Walker, Whittier, Central, Northern, GMI), which bored the kids to tears.

We stopped by Hidden Park, and it appeared to be completely overgrown. It looked abandoned. I didn't go in, mostly because there was a fair amount of people hangin’ on the street corners and I wasn't real comfy leaving my wife, Dayna, and kids in the car, nor bringing them with me, so off we went.

The kids highlight was stopping by the D&R market on Mackin and Chevrolet — the other end of 'strip mall' from the old Ruggero's — where our friends Steve and Rick have been working forever. Steve let the kids pick out any treats they wanted 'on him' and they got some candy and Faygos. I must admit they have never seen plexi-glass walls in a store before, so there were some questions in that area.

Beyond that my wife and I mostly played 'look what got torn down' as we drove around.

Oh…I think weeds are some kind of protected species in Flint. What else could explain the fervor with which they are preserved?

Emilia and Reilly meet Barbara at Balkan Bakery. The bread is fresh; the wall decorations were there in the eighties.

Emilia and Reilly hang out in front of the weed and concrete savanna that was once Comber's and, later, Double D Market. The garage in the background to the left, now being reclaimed by the urban forest, was once a staging area for pelting cars with snowballs. Delmar Street is directly behind them, and the houses in the background are on Humbolt Street.


  1. my God, I can smell Balkans, in my mind, right now! And Ruggero's! I lived up on N.Chevrolet, and those 2 places were Heaven.

  2. Toasted Balkan bread with a generous helping of butter was a favorite in our house.

  3. I considered stopping in Flint on my way north from Chicago. But, I was seriously concerned about driving my 2 year old thru the old 'hood (thanks in part to this blog) and my house was torn down a few years ago, so there is not much for me to see. However, I didn't know that Balkan was still open. Do they still have the soft, glazed donut twists? Those would be worth risking my life for.
    Kathy Wallace

  4. God Kathy, I feel like the voice of doom or something. Somebody from Flint please write in and offer up some good news...something that's encouraging. I'll post it!

  5. I lived on Humboldt, up near the intersection of Jackson and this sure does bring back memories. The Balkan was absolutely the best!

    Unfortunately, my trip through the neighborhood about a year ago was most depressing. Our old home looked completely trashed... :(


  6. Hey strike up the band, eat some cotton candy we're gonna have a parade ya'll

    That's right a parade in downtown Flint celebrating GMs 100th anniversary.

    I've been in a few parades in good old Flint, the last one on St.Patty's day about 1987 and a couple before that in the mid and late 70s

    But enough about my parade history in Flint.....we are helping GM celebrate it's 100 year anniversary
    with parties, parades, and the icing on the cake a parade with car show afterward.

    You remember GM, the huge multi-billion dollar corporation founded in the great city of Flint and went on to receive huge tax abatements then abandon it's birth mother.

    So the prodigal son is having a birthday celebration even if he isn't here.....come one come all!!!

  7. Heaven, you said it bustdup! My favorite was untoasted Balkan bread with butter and homemade blueberry jam. As far as Ruggero's is concerned, I don't think I've been there since it was still on Chevrolet, but I remember going after football games at Atwood.

  8. bustdup & redgirl -- I missed the Rugga'roo reference first time through. Ahhh, their garlic bread with ham and cheese. My gf at the time had to stop eating it -- her family couldn't stand the garlic smell the next day. ...oh, maybe that was tmi? :)

    I'm sure though that it's helping many cardiologist put their kids through college now.


  9. man, a big hunk of it, still steaming. no butter for me, or jam. just the bread...celebrate that, not generous motors. the staff of life, not the strife.

  10. The last time I flew on a plane-going to New Mexico for the final four in the 80's, I had a freshly baked loaf of Balkan Bread in my arms as I cried myself silly (I hate flying). My brother was stationed in Albuquerque and we feasted on cheap wine and Balkan bread. I haven't seen it in ages. Glad to know they are still open and I will be making a trip into Flint soon. I make my own bread but never was able to crack the recipe for this one.

  11. I can smell the Balkan bread, too! And the photo of the bakery added the aroma of their cookies, as well. Ruggero's was a weekly hangout for me; unfortunately, it's a different animal now. Still the same great lasagna, but not that great neighborhood feel. What great memories--thanks for sharing!

  12. Balkan Bakery bread made the best garlic bread! It was required every time my Mom made spaghetti. I have lived in Los Angeles for 23 years and I can still take that bread. Sigh...

    Paul Gault

  13. Sometime around 55 years ago I used to go with my granddad to help him sell his produce, chickens, rabbits, sausages and my grandmothers Hungarian pastries at the Flint Farmers Market. Wednesday and Saturday we always picked up several loaves of Balkan Bread. Makes my mouth water.

  14. Remember when Ruggero's was on Detroit Street? That was a long, long time ago...early 60's. My friend I shared an apartment with on McClellan worked there and she would bring home left over pizza which we'd eat cold for breakfast, no microwaves then.

  15. Glaze twist donuts purchased on cold snowy mornings from pilfered quarters (sorry mom). Eaten before school back against the warm outer wall of the bakery. Bell bottoms frozen stiff from the cold. Ahhhhh...


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at