Max Jacobson-Fried is the third generation of his family to run Las Vegas’ best bakery. As Freed’s celebrates over 54 years in business this year, he will be the first to tell you that family tradition is a key ingredient in Freed’s recipe for success.
As Freed’s specialty cakes have become synonymous with family birthdays, celebrity events, and Las Vegas weddings, it is the tradition of quality, creativity and service instilled by Max’s grandparents, Milton and Esther Fried, which still drives its success.
But the recipe also includes a dash of music because while my grandfather was a very good businessman, music was really his first love. – Max
Milt Fried’s dual career started in New York City right after WWII. Before the war, the Hoboken, NJ native had been the first chair saxophone in local orchestras that played the Rustic Cabin in Englewood Cliffs and featured the Andrews Sisters and a “gonna be” named Sinatra.
The first night he was discharged from the Army, he went to New York looking for work and was hired to play the utility chair for the Ziegfield Follies band starring Milton Berle. He played Broadway shows for the next 13 years including Finian’s Rainbow, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Pal Joey. But during that time, he and his wife, Esther, owned and operated two restaurants, the first on Rt. 9W in Englewood Cliffs and later Milt Fried’s Red Barn, which created traffic jams on the country roads in Bergen County, NJ.
The trips to the city introduced him to its finest foods and he fell in love with the dessert creations of Hortense Spiers, like the Nesselrode, toasted coconut and chocolate cream pies, and the unbelievable six-inch cheesecake. The infatuation led to his first brush with the baking business. In between Broadway gigs, he became the distributor of Spiers Pies to the high class restaurants on the other side of the bridge in Bergen County.
By 1959, Milton and Esther had five children, sons, Stephen, Paul and Barry, and daughters Yvonne and Joni, the youngest. Milt decided to move the family to Los Angeles and during the cross-country trip, stopped in Las Vegas, population 17,000 during the week, which doubled every Friday afternoon. Recognizing the wonder of it all, he unpacked the car which was bursting at the seams with five kids, a wife, seven horns and all manner of things that fit into cracks and on the roof. The Frieds never made it to L.A.
On October 10, 1959, Milton and Esther became the managers of Freed’s Royal Pastry Shop, an 11-seat snack shop in the Panorama Market, owned by City Commissioner Harry Leny. Their hottest seller was doughnuts, which Esther picked up every morning from the Spudnut Shop down the street. Just three weeks later, Leny wheeled in a six-pan oven, a 30-quart mixer and a refrigerator. Freed’s Royal Pastry Shop was a real bakery.
Meanwhile, Milt also went to work at the Sands Hotel as a member of the orchestra playing saxophone, bassoon and oboe and hooked up with his old Hoboken buddy Sinatra whenever he appeared there.
Milt Fried was not a baker. But from his earlier experiences in New York, he knew he wanted to create only the best quality baked goods for Las Vegas, which was already becoming one of the country’s leading wedding markets. Many experienced bakers came through town, from Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Miami and Europe, and Milt gave them all an opportunity. “Show me what you can do. Make me your favorite thing,” and “don’t worry about pleasing the customers, please me and let me worry about pleasing the customers,” became his standard instructions.
In the back of his mind, he always wanted to create the tastes of Hortense Spiers that he had so enjoyed in New York. But, the new creative ideas he helped engender took Freed’s Bakery in other directions. Many contend beyond Spiers.
From 1960 to 1962, seven more Freed’s Royal Pastry Shops opened in Las Vegas: at the Taste of Paris at Tropicana Ave. and Paradise Rd.; at the Mayfair Market across the street; at the El Bar El market at Maryland Parkway and Sahara; at another Mayfair Market at Sahara Ave. and Las Vegas Blvd.; the first Freed’s on the Strip at Las Vegas Blvd. and Oakey; at the corner of Charleston Blvd. and Eastern Ave., and at Skaggs Alpha Beta market.
Las Vegans and tourists soon recognized that Freed’s baked goods and desserts could not be matched. Creations like almond and chocolate chip babkas, poppy seed and apple strudel. Rugulach. Rye and French bread, challah and bagels that were better than cake, became staples in homes and at parties across the city. The wedding and specialty cake business began to grow.
The French bread became so renown that every morning at the Sahara-Strip bakery near the Sahara Hotel, lines formed that included show girls, business executives, casino execs and all manner of hotel staff. “Put the French bread high on the rack so they can see it,” Milt instructed. But, he needn’t be concerned. The doors opened at 7 a.m. and in 15 minutes, all the French bread was gone.
Then in 1967, Milton and Esther opened Freed’s Boulevard Bakery in the Boulevard Market in the new Boulevard Mall on Maryland Parkway and closed all of the Royal Pastry Shops. For the first time, Freed’s Bakery had its entire staff in one location.
That synergy not only enhanced the creative aspects of the business but also set a tone for operations and service that continues today.
Freed’s reputation already was well established, but now the whole city knew it. Business flourished and like most of the town, Freed’s opened seven days a week. Then in 1970, Milton and Esther announced their retirement. Although the couple kept an eye on the business, manager Fannie DiFatta and master baker Harry Helmut Busch from Vienna, Austria, managed day-to-day operations.
Youngest daughter, Joni, had grown up in the business. Also in 1970, Milt opened a bakery in Pacific Palisades, CA. Joni managed all operations there until 1974 when it was sold and she left to attend the University of California at Berkeley. In 1979, she returned to Las Vegas and became the manager of the family business.
Freed’s became the trendsetter in the Las Vegas bakery and dessert industry. Few events, from weddings, parties, conventions or family reunions, birthdays and graduations are planned without a Freed’s cake or special creation. On December 10, 1980, Freed’s moved to its much larger location at 4780 S. Eastern Ave (affectionately known as the “Tropicana” location). In 1982, the Las Vegas Review-Journal instituted its popular Best of Las Vegas poll that publishes each March. Locals vote for the Best in many categories. Freed’s has been named Best Bakery for over 30 years.
We have grown with Las Vegas. It was the entertainment capital of the world, then for a short time, it was the family capital. Now, it has evolved into the food capital with all the celebrity chefs who are here. But, it always has been the wedding capital. Freed’s has been fortunate to grow with all of those trends. – Joni
In 2011, Freed’s Bakery consolidated its two locations to a new 6500 square foot shop at 9815 Eastern Avenue. Adding a variety of decadent treats to the menu, growing the talented family of employees, and creating a separate space for sit down cake consultations were only a few of the wonderful additions to Freed’s Bakery at the new location.
Whether local or tourist, the public expects a level of quality from Freed’s that is created with signature ingredients like European butter cream and Bavarian crème filling.
The national media has known Freed’s for some time. The bakery and its creations have been featured on The Food Network’s “Roker On The Road;” “$40 a Day With Rachel Ray,” “Sugar Rush,” and “After Midnight,” as well as on Lifetime’s “Top This Party,” in Bon Appetit magazine, Conde Nast and in Martha Stewart’s Weddings.
Today, whether it’s a cake for Major League Baseball star Jason Giambi’s birthday, a Jamie Foxx party at Tao, or one of the thousands of family celebrations throughout the Valley, each individual creation receives the same attention to detail and the best ingredients. It can’t be any other way.