Born: March 26, 1897, in Guilford County.
Died: Oct. 28, 1960, in Winston-Salem.
Known as: Creating one of the South’s most prized bakeries — especially among Moravians — during a time when all odds were against him.
In 1930, as the world slid into the worst economic depression in recorded history, Dewey Guy Wilkerson opened a bakery. Ninety years and several million cookies later, it has expanded to take the flavors of southern baked goods and the distinctive snap of ultra-thin Moravian cookies world-wide. Wilkerson built a particularly loyal following not only with the unique cookies and cakes, but through his practice of community support, including over 12,000 pounds of fruitcakes sent do servicemen during the 1944 holiday season.
The Greensboro native was born the seventh of nine children to carpenter John Wilkerson and his first wife, Agnes, a dressmaker. Both parents had passed away before he was 16, leaving the widowed stepmother to raise a sizable family alone. Each child took a job as soon as they were old enough, either as carpenters, in cigar factories, or a print shop. Dewey worked first as a machinist, then a delivery driver for a bakery before being promoted to an inside clerk. By 1930, he had saved enough money to open his own bakery on W. Fourth Street in Winston-Salem where Dewey’s Bake Shop became a neighborhood staple. His use of quality ingredients and the distinctive recipes popular among the Moravian community (such as the sugar cakes) helped ensure his company’s place in family traditions.
Wartime sugar rationing caused some change as customers needed to contribute a cup of sugar when ordering a cake — but they kept ordering. As the business grew, his children and wife joined the daily operations. When the bakery burned down on Easter Monday in 1955, the neighboring drug store allowed him to use some of their space in order to stay open. He and his son, Dewey Jr. (who was bakery manager), took that opportunity to expand, and became one of the original tenants of the city’s first shopping center, Thruway. Today, Dewey’s Bakery is the only remaining original business.
Quality ingredients remained a trademark, highlighted in advertising from 1956: “Your health is your most valuable asset, protect it with good foods.” The bakery defied odds to remain a successful family-owned business into the third generation, something only about 12 percent manage. His son and then grandson (Dewey G. Wilkerson III) headed the company until 2011.