The Brew has learned that John Paterakis Sr., Baltimore’s billionaire bakery mogul, real estate developer and political powerbroker, died today at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He was 87.
Over a long career, the “bread man” created one of the biggest bakery businesses in the U.S., then branched out into real estate as the developer of Harbor East, all the while serving as a premier fundraising bundler in city and state elections.
His influence spread far and wide from his humble beginnings as the son of a Greek immigrant who forsook college to help his dad run a small East Baltimore bakery.
Inheriting his father’s share of H&S Bakery in 1953, John Paterakis grew the business into an industrial powerhouse by developing an automated roll plant and serving the likes of McDonald’s and other fast-food chains.
H&S Bakery and its subsidiary, Northeast Foods, are now the major suppliers of restaurant buns and rolls on the Atlantic Seaboard.
New Chapter as Mega-Developer
Almost by default, Paterakis became the owner of a patchwork of abandoned factories and little-used rail yards south of Little Italy in the 1980s.
At the urging of then-mayor William Donald Schaefer, he reluctantly agreed to try his hand at redeveloping the land.
Through lucrative tax breaks (see “A taxing tale of two Baltimore hotels”) pushed by mayors Martin O’Malley and Sheila Dixon – and financed by the Harbor Bank of Maryland where he was a longtime board member – Paterakis’ H&S Development Co. built Harbor East.
The upscale complex now boasts 5.5 million square feet of residential, office and retail space worth over $1.5 billion.
Shunning the thought of retirement despite poor health, Paterakis was involved in the expansion of his domain to the east side of Central Avenue with the proposed $170 million “Liberty Harbor East” project.
(Before he was taken to the hospital last week, he had hoped to attend the property’s groundbreaking ceremony on October 28, surrounding by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and other officials.)
Rebounds from Campaign Charges
In 2009, Paterakis pleaded guilty to two counts of campaign finance violations in connection with a secret $6,000 payment to City Councilwoman Helen L. Holton for a political poll.
He paid a fine of $26,000 and was briefly barred from contributing to political campaigns, but came back strong during the current election cycle. One example of his prowess was how quickly he managed to raise more than $130,000 for ex-mayor Dixon in the Democratic Party primary for mayor.
After Dixon’s loss in the primary, Paterakis and his four sons, who serve in executive positions at the company, turned their financial faucet to state Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, who is the Democratic Party’s nominee for mayor in the general election.
(One of “Mister John’s” favorite adages, according to a profile by Rafael Alvarez, was: “Always be involved in whatever you can politically, but never run for public office.”)
Despite his low-key style and casual attire, he was the indisputable patriarch of Baltimore’s Greektown community and its suburban enclaves in Harford County and was a major benefactor to many charities and the Greek Orthodox church.
Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced by the family, who could not be reached for comment. (UPDATE: A private service will be held on Thursday, October 20.)