By Lisa Kimble
Smith’s Bakeries, a Bakersfield tradition for iconic pastries — like the smiley face cookie and maple bar — is named after its co-founder Howard Smith, who started the business with partner Roy Balmain in 1945.
Dubbed the “bakers of Bakersfield,” their business relationship began six years earlier in 1939 in Porterville where Howard opened Smith’s Grocery Store. Roy Balmain was an employee.
In 1945, Smith moved the supermarket to Bakersfield at the corner of McCray Street and Chester Avenue. He opened a second store at Chester Avenue and 3rd Street, which at the time was one of the largest markets in town featuring an open-air storefront.
That same year, the men became partners, with Balmain concentrating on baked goods, said his son Jim Balmain, who began working at the 3rd and Chester store when he was 8 years old.
“My dad paid me a penny for every fly I could swat,” Jim recalled. “I was eventually fired when my dad discovered I was leaving the door and windows open.”
Howard Smith was a very astute businessman who became co-founder of Bank of the Sierra, Jim said.
“The supermarket was his love,” he said.
Roy was a self-made man, known in the industry as Dr. Balmain because of his appetite for knowledge. The senior Smith was self-schooled after the eighth grade and was a voracious reader.
“He was a wonderful man who took to baking like a scientist,” Jim said.
Roy also did development work for General Mills in exchange for free flour. Many of the desserts sold today are his original recipes, including the champagne cake and maple bars.
The Union Avenue bakery opened in 1956, and in 1985, Jim Balmain and wife Jacque bought the popular business from Howard and Roy.
From cookies and doughnuts, to brownies and wedding cakes, everything at Smith’s is still made by hand. Roy’s widow, Jeanne, still lives in Bakersfield. And today, the Smiths confections can be found at four locations around town.