By Mary Giorgio
For decades, Bunny Bread has been a household name for Midwest families. The brand, with its iconic cartoon bunny on the label, is among the most well-known bakery labels in the country. Trademarked by Lewis Bakeries, the brand and its founders got their start in Illinois, before moving to Indiana in the 1960s. The fascinating story of the establishment and development of the bakery and its iconic brand is one of patience, perseverance, and innovation.
On February 1, 1925, brothers Amos, Arnold, and Jack Lewis opened a small bread-baking operation in a rented log cabin in Anna, Illinois. The older two brothers, Amos and Arnold, had begun working in bakeries as teenagers and had finally decided the time had come to establish their own brand: the Lewis Brothers Bakery was born!
Since they lacked capital, their mother took out a $300 mortgage on her home, then lent them money to rent the log cabin and bakery equipment. They purchased other supplies, such as baking ingredients and a Model T delivery truck, on credit. In the early months of operation, the brothers would use the day’s proceeds to buy ingredients for the next day’s bread. Business was tight.
The first few months of operations exhausted the Lewis brothers. They had just enough money to build their customer base and pay their debts, but little else. They did all the work themselves since they couldn’t afford workers. They would bake bread all night, make deliveries each morning, then get a few hours of sleep in the afternoon. The baking process itself was an arduous task without expensive automated equipment. The brother’s early runs of bread, named “Milk-Maid,” were molded by hand, baked in a makeshift brick oven, and hand-wrapped.
After several months of diligent work, the brothers’ business expanded. They were able to hire a few employees, move to a larger facility and purchase equipment that allowed them to automate much of the baking process. These investments increased their baking capacity to around 500 loaves of bread per hour! Soon, the Lewis brothers’ bread sat on shelves all over southern Illinois.
The Lewis Brothers’ Bakery continued to grow its business and production capacity, and by 1933, they produced 16,000 loaves a day. In 1941, they added a new line of bakery goods to their wares. The brothers also experimented with updated branding for their product line, adding names like Butternut and Big Boy.
Jack Lewis eventually took over management of the bakery. Under Jack’s leadership, the bakery continued to innovate and expand. In 1940, the bakery incorporated as Lewis Bakeries with Jack as president. By 1947, the company had 12 delivery routes, employed 50 people, and produced 75,000 loaves of bread each week.
Jack also created the iconic “Bunny Bread” brand. The bakery’s famous Bunny cartoon figure first appeared on packaging for Lewis Brothers’ Butternut Bread in 1947. It became so popular with customers that the company eventually trademarked the name “Bunny Bread” for their bakery products. The memorable bunny, along with the catchy slogan, “That’s what I said, Bunny Bread!” became an immediate marketing sensation and could be seen in commercials, newspaper ads, and billboards all over the Midwest.