LATE IN APRIL ALLEN BAIRD was sitting in the utilitarian office in Fort Worth from which he oversees Mrs Baird’s bakeries planning his company’s Chapter 11 reorganization. “I can think of five hundred things I’d rather be doing,” he said tersely. Baird, who is 73 and has iron-gray hair, is the seventh member of his family to hold the title of chairman. His grandmother Ninnie founded Mrs Baird’s in 1908 to support her eight children, and for decades it has been synonymous with family values. It pained Baird to think of staining that clean-cut image. “I don’t think anything has ever gnawed at me more than this,” he said. “It’s the worst decision I’ve ever had to make. If someone had told me six months ago that we should do it, I’d have said no.”
Most companies file for bankruptcy because they have run out of cash, but that wasn’t the case here. During the fiscal year ending September 30, 1995, the company recorded sales of more than $263 million. What drove Mrs Baird’s to seek the protection of bankruptcy court, despite the stigma involved, was a catas-trophe even more scandalous than going broke. To the shock of Texans who grew up eating its squishy loaves and sticky fruit-filled pies, the company was convicted earlier this year of conspiring to fix the price of white bread. Mrs Baird’s would soon be ordered to pay a criminal fine, and it might even face civil penalties too: After the trial, a handful of plaintiffs (including grocery stores and school districts) argued that they had been hurt by the price-fixing and sued the bakery in state and federal civil courts. That’s why Allen Baird ducked into bankruptcy court—to temporarily freeze the pending litigation.
It was the sort of move you’d expect from a devious corporate raider, which is not how most people would think of one of Ninnie L. Baird’s grandsons. In a somber painting that hangs just inside the entrance of the Mrs Baird’s bakery in Fort Worth, Ninnie is wearing a white blouse and a dark velvet choker, and her gray curls are pulled back from her face. Farther inside is a life-size replica of the kitchen at 512 Hemphill, where Ninnie baked bread. “This is where it all began,” Allen said. The house is always described as Mrs Baird’s first bakery, which is true in the sense that it was the site of the company’s