If you’ve traveled through the 3300 block of North Lincoln Avenue in Chicago in the last 76 years, you probably noticed the giant vertical neon sign that reads “DINKEL’S.” It is hard to miss this landmark of the Lakeview neighborhood that has hung over Dinkel’s Bakery since 1946. Now it serves as a vestige of Chicago history. Dinkel’s announced its closing in April 2022 after 100 years of business.
Building on the Newberry’s strength of collecting Chicago history, the records of the bakery came to the library shortly after its closing. The collection includes materials that tell the story of a growing bakery business, a family, and an ever-changing Chicago neighborhood through advertisements and catalogs, sales records, correspondence, photographs, and architectural drawings of the bakery’s physical space.
Dinkel’s Bakery was started in March 1922 by German immigrants Joseph K. Dinkel (1883-1952) and Antonie Dinkel (1888-1959). Joseph trained as a baker in Germany before immigrating to the United States in 1906. Joseph and Antonie’s son, Norman J. Dinkel, Sr. (1912-1992) joined them in the early 1930s and ran the business until Norman J. Dinkel, Jr. took over in the early 1970s. Many other family members were integral to the bakery’s operations through 2022. The bakery became famous for signature items like stollen, cakes, cookies, and other specialty baked goods.
Throughout its history, the bakery remained firmly rooted on Lincoln Avenue. First located at 3312 North Lincoln, the bakery moved across the street to 3327 North Lincoln in 1926. It then expanded next door to 3329 North Lincoln in 1946 when the iconic sign was installed.
Dinkel’s was one of many thriving businesses in the Lincoln-Belmont-Ashland shopping district over the decades. When Dinkel’s expanded their operations to include café sandwiches in 2013, it was no surprise that the menu items were named after many historical neighborhood businesses—these dishes included “Ziggy’s Ham Sandwich” (named for Paulina Market founder Sigmund Lekan), “Kotz’s Caprese Sandwich” (honoring Kotz’s Shoe Store), and, for the kids, the “Hamilton’s Grilled Cheese and Ham” (named after Hamilton Elementary School).
Several items even paid tribute to the major department stores in the area such as Wieboldt’s, Woolworth’s, and Goldblatt’s. Norm Dinkel, Jr. remembered that the bakery “had to let our sales staff have a little longer lunch break” when these stores had their sales days so Dinkel’s staff could take advantage.
As with many Chicago neighborhoods, Lakeview experienced periods of decline as well. By the time Norm Jr. took over the bakery in the early 1970s, the shopping district had changed substantially since the earlier years. In September 1973, Dinkel wrote to Mayor Richard J. Daley to express concern about these changes, citing migration of Lakeview residents to the suburbs due to poor housing options and an increase in crime. He also attributed the changes to a discontinuation of two bus lines through the neighborhood. The Dinkel family not only had a deep investment in their bakery, but in the surrounding community as well.
In 2023, the Lakeview neighborhood is once again flourishing with new and old businesses alike. The building that was the bakery’s primary home for over seven decades has been sold to developer Senco Properties and will likely become residential properties in the coming years. In a February 2021 Chicago Tribune article about the possibility that Dinkel’s might sell their building, Norm Jr. reflected, “If you don’t change with the times, they change without you…I’ve loved serving the customers and being in the neighborhood. If we do leave, we want to leave it better for people.” The fondness that longtime customers felt for the bakery will continue for some time, and while the Newberry may not be able to keep the Dinkel’s sign, we can preserve a little slice of Chicago history.
About the Author
Catherine Grandgeorge is the Manuscripts and Archives Librarian at the Newberry.
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