Family creates a baking dynasty in Israel

How would you imagine a master baker’s inner sanctum? White aprons and clouds of flour? Baking trays and inventories?

All wrong.

Papers cover most of the surfaces in the office of Danny Angel, Israel’s premier baker — sharing space with stacked boxes of Cuban cigars — but it’s the walls that tell of the man.

There are photos everywhere, picturing Angel during many of his 88 years. His hair and mustache changing from black to grey to silver, his waistline increasing, he embraces Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Teddy Kollek, Ezer Weizmann. He is at dinner with Elizabeth Taylor, hugs Danny Kaye and stands arm-in-arm with Rudy Giuliani.

In and among the celebrity shots there are family photos — from a stiffly posed couple who are Danny’s grandparents, Shlomo and Esther, founders of the Angel Bakery in 1927, all the way down to the business’s fourth generation of Angels, Danny’s son, nephew and niece.

Pictures of Danny Angel with soldiers and manufacturers, with new baking technology and with bread, nudge dozens of framed citations and certificates: Angel as a Jerusalem Worthy, as a Jerusalem Prize laureate, as a Notable Industrialist, as president of Israel’s Variety Clubs, Rotary Club and Manufacturers’ Association. And dwarfing every other picture is a large painting of a young, smiling and clear-eyed soldier, Angel’s 20-year-old son Ariel, killed on the Suez Canal in 1970.

An eighth-generation Jerusalemite who has worked in the family bakery for 75 years, Danny Angel’s life runs parallel with that of the city he helped develop and the nation he helped build.

“I was 7 years old when my grandfather Shlomo acquired a bakery in Bayit Vegan from a bankrupt client,” he says. “At the time, my grandfather was a dry goods merchant who traveled regularly to Damascus, Alexandria and Beirut to buy flour and other foods, but when the bakery came into his hands, he decided to operate it. It reopened the next year, 1927, and by the time I was 13, my after-school job on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays was collecting money from the grocery stores to which we sold our bread. On Thursdays it was helping to bake and braid the challah.”

In those early days, 25 workers produced 8,500 loaves of bread a week and delivered them in two trucks and a horse-and-cart. “The horse-and-cart was more efficient than the trucks,” recalls Angel, “because the horse knew the route as well as the driver, so there was no problem when the driver was off sick!”

While Angel never doubted where his future lay, the family bakery was only part of the picture. “At the same time I began working in the bakery, I also enlisted in the Haganah,” the pre-state defense force, he says. “Nine years later, in 1941, when I was 22, I volunteered for the British Army and served in Egypt and the Western Desert. After that I joined the Jewish Brigade and fought in Italy.”

Angel stayed on in Europe after World War II ended, working with Aliyah Bet to smuggle Jewish immigrants into pre-state Israel. By 1948, when Israel was fighting for independence, he was back in Jerusalem, equipped by his British military training to help defend the city.

At the same time, the Angel Bakery was playing its own role in the city’s defense. “Three times a week we’d bring bread in convoys to the fighters in Jerusalem’s besieged Old City and on Mount Scopus,” he recalls. “Hidden inside the sacks of bread were guns and ammunition.” Food and water ran low during the brutal siege of Jerusalem, but Angel’s kept baking bread for the starving city: fire trucks brought water and flour was swept up off the bakery floor.

With the war fought and won, it was time for change. The small Bayit Vegan plant was sold. Two of Shlomo’s three sons moved to Haifa where they built and opened the city’s second-largest bakery. The third son, Danny’s father, and Danny built the modern bakery that is still the company’s home, in Jerusalem’s Givat Shaul neighborhood.

“We chose the area because it was close to the flour mill that we still use,” says Angel. “We built Israel’s first flour silo and in 1965 brought a Texas company to Israel to build a 750-foot pipeline from mill to silo through which we bring 120 tons of flour to the bakery each day. The city of Jerusalem initially opposed the pipeline as it had to go above ground, but we convinced them, and later won Israel’s Kaplan Prize for Industrial Efficiency.”

Modernization and innovation are the hallmark of both baking and business practice in the Givat Shaul plant, into which the company moved in 1956 — and in the Angel Bakeries opened in Lod in 1995 and Netivot in 1999. The Angels brought the first long-ovens to Israel: 90 feet in length, they each bake 1,800 loaves an hour. They also developed plant-based emulsifiers, which combine water and oil in the bread-making process and eliminate the kashrut problems of animal-based equivalents.

To ensure freshly baked bread for Sunday mornings after the bakery’s closure for Shabbat, they found and imported a British-made mixer that can create dough in two hours rather than six. And in Hungary they found machinery that cleans wheat, enabling them to bake whole-wheat products. It was Angel’s that introduced sliced bread onto the Israeli market, and found ways to integrate soy flour into breads.

And it’s Angel’s that meets the taste and quality standards of McDonald’s and is the chain’s sole supplier for hamburger rolls in Israel.

Today, Angel’s three bakeries produce 35 percent of all bread eaten in Israel. Using 5,000 tons of flour a month, they bake over 500,000 fresh loaves a day, produce 100 different types of bread and 250 different types of cakes and cookies. Their fleet of 200 trucks (the horse and cart long since phased out) transports Angel produce to 6,000 stores and hundreds of hotels and army bases countrywide. Once a month a full refrigerated shipping container of Angel’s cakes and borekas is sent off to Brooklyn, N.Y.

“Even by international standards Angel’s Bakeries is considered a giant,” says Danny Angel. But, he emphasizes, it is not a faceless industry. “We have 1,800 employees — Israelis, new immigrants, Palestinians, several of them third-generation with us — and we’ve never had a single strike. In fact, the only times our bakery ever closes is Shabbat, festivals and Pesach.”

Angel’s was floated on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange in 1984, the first Israeli bakery to go public, but it remains a

family business. Management has passed from Danny’s eldest brother Avraham, a lawyer by training, to his daughter Ruthie. Production and technology has moved from Danny’s second brother Ovadia, a pharmacist and chemist, to his son Gadi. Company directorship has been handed from Danny to his son Yaron.

A graduate of the American University in Beirut and of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and fluent in seven languages, Danny Angel is equally comfortable on the factory floor, at international baking conventions, among celebrities, in the corridors of power and with the many causes to which he devotes much of his time.

Recently slowed by health problems, he has cut his 12-hour working day to six — but the cigar remains clenched between his teeth, his mind remains razor-sharp and he is still suffused by joy in what he and his family have created.