A ‘Secret’ Bakery Sweetens a Community

It’s easy to miss it.

After all, Woodmoor Pastry Shop sits in an unassuming strip of stores pressed back from a busy intersection. But for those in the know, for decades, Woodmoor Pastry Shop has made an indelible and delectable impression on those who trek from across the region to sample freshly baked wares.


At Woodmoor Pastry Shop, everything glistens. Photo by Elizabeth Webster

Flaky and frosted pastries, pastel-colored cookies, and cakes with swirls of thick and creamy icing beckon from glass cases and shelves. The bakery’s spread includes cinnamon twists so delicious that one Washington Post reviewer once rhapsodized that a mere nibble transported him back to childhood memories of his mom’s confections. The same reviewer dubbed a Woodmoor’s glazed donut as “fluffy as a roll of Charmin.”

Woodmoor isn’t just any bakery, though. It is an integral part of the Silver Spring Day School community and supports the school by hosting annual field trips and by sponsoring our Spring Auction this May.

For Joanna Gray, grandmother of two SSDS students and owner of Woodmoor Pastry Shop, being active in the community is always something she has valued.

Her son, Jamie Gray, says there is just one reason:  ‘The customers, from generation to generation, making friendships with them and producing products that their families can enjoy. It is a community bakery where we make a great product at a reasonable price.”

Every year, chubby-cheeked SSDS preschoolers hold hands and carefully make their way across the street to the bakery. When they arrive, they are treated to a lesson in how dough rises and how to frost cakes. The bakery also often supports Blair and Northwood High Schools and numerous other public and private schools, churches and religious organizations through various charitable donations; the bakery has even provided donuts for the Thunderbolts’ baseball games.


Ms. Lesley’s class visits the bakery. Photo by Lindsey Tessada

Woodmoor is a member of the Retail Bakers of America and has been nationally recognized with many awards for their baked wares and customer service.  But it’s that sense of connection to the community which has helped convince the family that smaller is better when it comes to customer service.

Baking has been the family business for generations ever since Lee Mower, the great grandparent of two SSDS students, learned the trade in his family’s bakery in Cumberland, Maryland. Mower and his wife, Shirley, moved to the Silver Spring area in the late 1950s, where they lived with their two children in a one-bedroom apartment in the Langley Park area. Mower would work at Heidi, a commercial bakery, until they could afford to buy the bakery in 1963. “The whole family would work at the bakery, including my uncles and my mom,” Jamie Gray says. Lee and Shirley Mower would continue to run the bakery until his passing in 2006. “My mom Joanna Gray would buy the bakery in 2007, therefore staying in the family for another generation,” Jamie Gray says.


Joanna Gray, right, with some of her bakers, are all smiles at the counter. Photo courtesy Woodmoor Pastry Shop

The family’s method of baking is a ritual of sorts. Nearly every morning, folks get up well before dawn to open the bakery. Staffers knead dough and bake bread. From there, they move on to icing cake and pastries; and then there’s the breakfast rush. Things wind down in the early afternoon. Except for a couple of hours in the evening, and Mondays when the bakery is closed, the bakery is always running. On holidays the bakery becomes a 24-hour operation, Jamie Gray says.

“We have had many ‘crazy’ requests and we do our best to complete what the customer wants,” he says. “One of the craziest orders was a customer [who] wanted us to make 400 assorted pies for Thanksgiving. She comes back year after year for her pie order.”

Weekday mornings are full of neighbors popping in for pasties or placing orders for pies. The customers chat amiably with the staff and swap tales about the weather and traffic woes. But the weekends—well, those evolve into a neighborhood meet and greet of sorts as neighbors flood the store to pick up birthday cakes, cookie orders and pastries for the weekend. “Chocolate donuts are my mom’s favorite thing and decorating cakes for any occasion is her favorite thing to do,” Jamie Gray says.

Despite the hustle and bustle, the bakery manages to add such personal touches as a rush order on a Friday for a larger birthday cake when late RSVPs quadrupled the guest list. Little wooden trains are carefully acquired for locomotion-loving toddlers and personalized Elsa and Anna decorations became the must-have cake topper when “Frozen” debuted.

Visitors come for the confections. But they return again and again for the aura of warmth and community that radiates far beyond the store’s toasty confines and deep into a community that has come to appreciate the bakery’s generosity.

“Although our family appreciates the recognition it has received, that is not why we do it,” Jamie Gray says. “It is important that we must support our community and other businesses so that we all can continue to grow and prosper in these times.”

—by the SSDS Auction Committee