Gooey tradition returns to Waldorf

Walls Bakery is back with singular favorite éclairs

Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2009

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Above, Robert Walls, left, and his son, Mark, roll out and cut pan rolls, one of several popular treats available at Walls Bakery in Waldorf. Right, Robert Walls puts thick dollops of chocolate on éclairs, the most popular item sold at the Waldorf bakery that re-opened last month.

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The éclairs are back and judging by the number of people who have besieged Walls Bakery in Waldorf since it reopened last month just about everybody in Southern Maryland knows it.

Those éclairs – about a half a foot of flaky dough filled with creamy yellow custard and topped with thick dollops of sweet chocolate icing – have been drawing customers to the bakery since it first opened in the former Wigwam night spot on U.S. 301 in Waldorf in 1969.

The late Crystal Walls and her husband, Jack, ran the bakery at the Wigwam until the mid-2000s when the couple decided to retire to their farm in Lynchburg, Va. Crystal Walls passed away two years ago, right after the couple's son, Robert, and grandson, Mark Walls, opened a smaller version of the bakery in the Calvert Country Market in Prince Frederick.

That enterprise was only open about a year because the shopping center where the market was located was sold to make way for The Greene Turtle Sports Bar & Grille.

Finding the small shop in the Washington Square center on Old Washington Road was all the impetus the pair needed to re-open the bakery, Mark Walls said, adding that the shop officially opened Dec. 10 although many longtime customers knew about the plan long before then.

"They were waiting for us to open the doors," he said while taking a break from cutting and baking pan rolls. "We're a little overwhelmed at the moment. People expect an operation like we had at the Wigwam, but we're not there yet."

The Wallses are just now getting started on taking orders for birthday and wedding cakes, he said, adding that he and his father work 16 hours a day to keep the bakery's shelves stocked with treats, including a variety of cookies, cakes and pies, doughnuts, Danishes and pan rolls.

The pair makes about 500 éclairs a day, Walls said, adding that the bakery uses 100 pounds of flour and 24 gallons of custard a day to make the tasty treats.

The Wallses have five ovens, several industrial mixers that hold 80 quarts, a doughnut-cutting machine and a doughnut fryer, all purchased new for the opening of the shop, Walls said.

The Wallses have eight employees, which includes Robert Walls' wife, Martha, and a couple of aunts. Mark Walls' brother, Michael, keeps an eye on the accounting end of the business.

"We try to keep it in the family," he said, adding that he started helping his grandparents out at the Wigwam when he was a youngster, but really didn't get into the actual baking end of the business until about three years ago.

"I'm just a little worried that we'll be able to live up to what my grandma and granddad built," he said. "We want everybody's expectations to be met and we're going to do everything that we can to make sure that those expectations are met."

Robert Walls, 59, said he worked with his parents at the Wigwam since 1969. The public's response to the reopening of the popular bakery is very gratifying, he said.

"It's like a dream come true to be able to open again," he said.

"We sure didn't expect such a large response to the opening. It's unbelievable. We've got so many friends that have dropped by since we opened. They tell us that they missed those éclairs and doughnuts."

Customers also rave about the bakery's cheesecakes, he said.

"They tell us that we have the best cheesecakes in the United States," he said, smiling. "People from New York have told us that they can't find any cheesecakes like ours."

The aroma of the tasty treats concocted daily by the Walls hits customers as soon as they swing open the bakery's door.

Customers steadily trickled into the bakery at mid-afternoon on Friday.

"I used to go to Walls all of the time when it was at the Wigwam," said Curtis Hall of Benedict. "I love the glazed doughnuts. I can eat them by the box."

"What I've missed most is the éclairs," said La Plata resident Dawn Hammonds. "They make the absolute best éclairs. That's what I came here for today. I'm so glad that that they re-opened. Nobody can ever top them. They're definitely one of a kind."

"I went to the Wigwam since high school," said Marc Warfield of Waldorf. "I love the place."

Warfield said that during a recent trip out West, he ran across someone who wanted to know if the bakery was still open.

"A guy asked me if I live near the ‘teepee,'" he said, laughing. "It's amazing."

Robert Walls said that he is glad that the family was able to re-open the bakery in Waldorf where it all began 40 years ago.

"It was a good gamble," he said. "It's a good investment. I would like to thank our customers for the support that they have given us all these years and for remembering the old times. I just ask that they be patient with us. We're trying to train new people so that we can produce the products that we don't have yet."

"I'm very happy with the customers' response," Mark Walls said. "They let me know right away how happy they are that the bakery has re-opened in Waldorf. It was pretty instantaneous. That helps to relieve some of the stress."