From its humble beginnings in a small market off Charleston and Valley View boulevards a half century ago to its recent coverage on the Food Network’s Roker on the Road, Freed’s Bakery is a classic American success story, and it’s one that belongs to Las Vegas.
It began in 1959 when Milton and Esther Fried moved their family here from New Jersey. Milton, whose main source of income was playing tenor sax at the Sands, needed a second source of income for his brood, and given that he ran restaurant back home, a little snack bar in the burgeoning city of Las Vegas showed promise. Soon came Freed’s Royal Pastries (for those paying attention, they intentionally changed the spelling) and applied themselves feverishly from the outset.
Like the exacting recipe for one of their cakes, the Frieds achieved success over the years with a variety of techniques, such as working through the holidays and having every family member pitch in, whether baking or delivering. And the taste and range of their baked goods have continually evolved, thanks to enhancements by bakers of various backgrounds and cultures.
It has all added up to make Freed’s part of the consciousness of a growing city. For more than 50 years, this little bakery has been the go-to place for elaborate wedding cakes and rugelach at bar mitzvahs. Waiting in line for the chocolate strudel has long been a Christmas tradition. And many other memories of Las Vegans have long been flavored by Freed’s, such as a certain writer’s association of a blueberry-and-strawberry-topped bicentennial flag cookies in the summer of ’76.
The latest family member in charge, Max Jacobson-Fried, the 26-year-old general manager (grandson of Milton, and no relation to Vegas Seven food critic Max Jacobson), sums up their success this way: “We’re not afraid of challenges. We love new designs, and we don’t turn people away with their requests. Our customers keep us going with their active imaginations.”
One example is the 14-year-old who’s become such a regular that “he actually comes into the bakery and decorates his own cakes with us,” Jacobson-Fried says. “Once, for his birthday, he designed a water-slide-themed cake. It was an entire water park, where the water slides were supported on [confectionery] Nikes. Man, that was such a big cake!”
Perhaps this helps explain Jacobson-Fried’s vision for the bakery’s next chapter: “I can definitely see us having our own reality show.”
Granted, Freed’s is widely acknowledged for cake designs of stunning, intricate detail, but can it compete with the two popular shows that are already out there, such as the Food Network’s Ace of Cakes and The Learning Channel’s Cake Boss?
“Oh, absolutely,” Jacobson-Fried says. “Las Vegas is tailor-made for a reality show. So many people get married here, and some of the ideas they come up with for wedding cakes! And we can turn them around in a matter of hours, so they know we’re dependable.”
In a city that is often chided for not having much of a history, particularly with its mom-and-pop businesses, Freed’s dependability is as welcoming as it is revealing. This is not just continuing folklore, but folklore that serves some mean rugelach.