Goodnight, sweet prince: Some Crust retires its 1940s oven
By Annabelle Ink | Special to the Courier
A massive, hulking piece of metal dating back to the 1940s, Some Crust Bakery’s Middleby-Marshall Model H Revolving Oven served various bakeries — and, to a lesser extent, the United States Army — for some 80 years. Now, with its faulty bearings and unstable shelves, it is finally being retired.
Some Crust was closed January 8-22 to allow for the installation of a new, state of the art Fish Revolving Oven.
“We are a little bit sentimental about it, but it definitely got to the point where we needed to do something to improve the business,” said Scott Feemster, Some Crust’s general manager.
The Middleby-Marshall oven made its first appearance in the Village in the early 1950s at what was then Hodges Claremont Bakery. Prior to that it saw service at an U.S. Army air base in Orange County.
The base was repurposed, and the oven decommissioned when the war ended in 1945. The Hodges family was told that if they could manage to extract the huge oven from the army base, it was theirs to keep. They built an entirely new kitchen around the oven to accommodate its size. And there it sat up until last week.
Feemster, whose family purchased Some Crust in 1997, 16 years after it was first established by Dorothy and Fred Demke, described the oven as having sentimental value for the business’s employees and owners.
“It’s just like having an old car or an old motorcycle or something you get kind of fond of,” he said. “Everybody got kind of fond of our uniquely old oven.”
Henry Barnes worked at Some Crust from 1989 to 1996. He described the old oven as being “pretty tight.”
A function of his job at Some Crust involved turning the oven off for a full eight hours each month and climb inside to grease the joints.
“That was an amazing fricking oven,” Barnes said. “It’s probably the only one like that I’ll ever ride in, that’s for sure.”
He recalled one instance in which his coworker challenged him to ride inside the Ferris wheel-like contraption, which he described as having some 12 constantly rotating shelves, each approximately six to eight feet long.
Even though the oven had been turned off for hours beforehand, Barnes stated that it was still relatively hot when he went inside to ride on one of the shelves.
When “I rolled out, I was definitely very pink — like, bright red,” he said.
Despite its sentimental value, Feemster knew the ancient machine had to be replaced to save both money and time. Although it was always regularly maintained and repaired, it began to face increasingly serious problems over the years.
Continuing with the old Middleby-Marshall oven would have been like trying to win a modern road race in an 80-year-old car, an advisor said to Feemster.
With this in mind, Some Crust made the decision last spring to replace it in January, one of the bakery’s slower months.
Feemster was not the only one expressing such bittersweet sentiments. In response to a January 4 announcement about the plans to replace the oven on its Instagram page, various customers and employees shared their regret over the oven’s fate and the business’s temporary closure.
One commenter suggested replacing the historic oven might cause some of the ghosts they claimed haunt Some Crust to depart. And while the bakery does have a history of paranormal activity, Feemster said he didn’t necessarily think it was connected to the oven.
“The building itself was built in 1888,” Feemster said. “There’s definitely plenty of other old things where, if there was some kind of phantasm, it could hang out.”
The new Fish Revolving Oven will offer significant benefits, Feemster said. Unlike its aged predecessor, it’s highly energy efficient. This means that things will bake faster and more evenly. Moreover, it’s a modern industrial appliance, and as such if anything breaks, parts are readily available.
Feemster said he regretted having to close the business for two weeks to install the new oven, and not just because of the lost revenue.
“We felt badly about because we do consider ourselves kind of an institution in Claremont, and we know a lot of people count on us,” he said. “But we kind of were like, you know, we need to do something about the oven so that we can continue on into the future.”
Some Crust is located at 119 N. Yale Ave. in Claremont. More info is at somecrust.com.
Ink is a sophomore English major at Pomona College and hopes to pursue a career in journalism after college.