Updated: May 5
In the Bronx, Italian Bakeries are a Delicious Blend of Family and Tradition
Photos & Words by David Leon Morgan
Gino’s Pastry Shop
580 E. 187th Street, Bronx, NY
One bite into a cannoli from Gino’s Pastry Shop takes you on a journey through history. The recipe hasn’t changed since Gino Raguso established the business in 1960. Now, 59 years later, his son Jerome Gino Raguso still uses the same methods and recipes his father wrote in a cherished notebook.
The handwritten recipes have etched Gino’s Pastry Shop into Bronx history. The Belmont neighborhood is home—Jerome wouldn’t have it any other way. “I never went to college,” he says. “If you ever read my bio, it says ‘Where did you attend?’ And I say ‘I attended the University of Belmont.’” Homegrown relationships are seen with every wave into the shop window. They’re heard when a bride-to-be speaks to Jerome and fiancée Giovanna Petti about her dream wedding cake, and they’re tasted in every bite of the rows of handmade treats.
No matter the distance, fans find their way back. “One guy comes from Boston every three, four months and gets an item called Bones of the Dead,” says Jerome, “This type of cookie—they’re very hard—it’s supposed to be for [All Souls Day on November 2] but we make them all year round.”
Though the assortment at Gino’s Pastry Shop is wide, it’s the cannoli that garners the most acclaim.
Every part of a cannoli is essential and interdependent—just like the Bronx. Being there for the community is a large part of what makes Gino’s so special. When funding was threatened to be cut from the Bronx Zoo, whose foot traffic impacts local businesses in Belmont and Fordham, Jerome transformed his specialty into a pointed message. During a lawmakers’ meeting to discuss the proposed cuts, he delivered cannoli with a surprise twist. “When [each councilmember] opened up the box, inside the box was a cannoli,” he says, “but inside the cannoli was a handwritten letter that I wrote saying ‘Due to budget cuts, this is what 53% of a cannoli would look like—an empty shell.” The strategy worked, and the budget cut was reduced. That’s the power of a great cannoli.
Zeppieri & Sons Italian Bakery
3004 Buhre Avenue, Bronx, NY
On Buhre Avenue, Carmine Zeppieri III sustains a 50-year family business, started by his grandfather, Carmine Zeppieri, in 1968. Since then, the Zeppieris have baked treats with love and found soulmates in the process.
“My grandfather and my grandmother met here. My parents met here. The girls were working the counter and … yeah,” Carmine says with a smile.
While Carmine waits his turn for romantic serendipity, he keeps up with hungry customers who stop by for Zeppieri’s famous breads, cakes and pastries. “It’s a lot of demand,” he notes, “because most of [the items] are perishable. So, things are time sensitive.”
But, like true love, great food is worth the wait. And enjoying food in the Bronx is time well spent. “I love the Bronx,” Carmine says. “You see all different kinds of people, from every race, every kind of background, every kind of culture.” Across boundaries, food is a universal language. As Carmine mentions, it’s “one thing everybody understands. And most people, even if you’re not Italian, you like Italian stuff. What’s good is good.”
And what works doesn’t need to be changed. Zeppieri & Sons’ relationship to its Bronx location, and the processes that gives it its charm, is strong. “There’s a lot of things that we still do that we’ve been doing for 50 years. There’s a lot of machinery that we’ve been using for close to a hundred years,” Carmine says, “and we keep it that way because that’s what has made us to this point.”
From baguettes to sfogliatelle, Zeppieri & Sons’ traditional recipes thrive. “There’s plenty of ways we could cut corners,” says Carmine, “but then you’re gonna change your product and it won’t be the same.”
Golden Glow Cookie Company
1844 Givan Avenue, Bronx, NY
In 1954, while working at a telephone company, Rose Florio took a bold step. With the help of her father, she started a baking business and, a year later, a family. “She definitely was a woman before her time,” notes her daughter Joan Florio, who now runs Golden Glow Cookie Company with her nephew, Michael Florio.
Joan grew up in the business and remembers her mom taking phone orders at home while the children played in the background. Shortly after opening, Rose’s company grew, expanding beyond her original Barnes Avenue location into the spacious headquarters at 1844 Givan Avenue, where it has remained since the ’60s.
“It was tough, but she did it,” says Joan. “She succeeded.”
Joan and Michael have seen the neighborhood transition from empty lots to a lively collection of homes. Each change solidifies their pride in being Bronx born and raised. “We’ve never [considered moving],” she says. “There are so many very loyal customers who come to us on a weekly basis, monthly basis.” Originally a wholesale-only company, Golden Glow Cookie Company established a storefront to meet the demands of folks who stop in and reminisce.
Good food builds community and, in return, Joan and Michael create a community with other local businesses. “Most of our ingredients,” like dairy, are sourced from just outside of Westchester County, Michael notes. “It comes from maybe an hour and a half away from us.” A local economy benefits all, especially hometown business owners who are committed to seeing everyone thrive.
“We want to keep people like us running,” says Joan.
That same level of thoughtfulness extends into each part of the business. “One of the things that I take pride in is our customer service,” Michael says. “I think that when you’re dealing with smaller companies you get that personal touch.” And, of course, that personal touch makes its way into every incredible offering of treats Michael and Joan make with their team.
“There’s something to the Italian approach of cooking, in general, where it’s very inclusive,” Michael says. “There’s this generosity in the spirit in which the food is being prepared that transcends across cultures, backgrounds.”
It’s simply good food, which makes everyone who enjoys it a part of the famiglia.
Words and photos by David Leon Morgan