Sanremo Bakery Cafe: The Pride And Passion Of A Family Business

The romance, pride, care and skill of the Bozzo family have made SanRemo Bakery Cafe a treasured tradition in Etobicoke.

There are many industries in the world which are considered tough and competitive, but few match the restaurant industry. Various studies have shown that 60 per cent of restaurants fail to survive the first three years in business, with the majority closing in their first year. And that statistic makes the success of SanRemo Bakery Cafe, located at 374 Royal York Rd., and celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, even more notable, as it cements its position as a tradition and landmark in its Etobicoke, Ont., neighbourhood.

The business was founded in 1969 by Natale Bozzo, along with his brothers Giuseppe, Peter and Giancarlo. Natale moved to Canada from Italy when he was just 15 years old, and an opportunity came up to purchase a business, which became SanRemo Bakery Cafe. Though he passed the business on to his sons Edward, Nick and Robert 25 years ago, Natale can still be seen baking bread and keeping an eye on things from time to time.

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“The business was built on a great foundation by our father and his brothers to build a future for themselves and their families,” says oldest brother Nick, who handles business management. “We had to work hard when we joined, and the business always came first. For the longest time, I was just a cake decorator and then we started to grow. Life is a learning lesson, and you can’t work your business and manage your business at the same time, so I focused on growing the business.”

In the early days, SanRemo was known primarily for its sweets and breads, including doughnuts, pastries and cakes, and as a home to the romance of baking fresh bread and pastries by artisans who took pride in their craft and poured their heart and soul into all of their creations. That romance still exists today and is a treasured neighbourhood tradition. After all, nothing smells better than a bakery.

“I like playing with breads, pastries and doughnuts — things I can create by thinking outside of the box,” says middle brother Edward, the head master baker. “Take doughnuts, for example, which run out like crazy here every day. I wake up every day thinking about what I can create to bring people in. And since we’re nearing Thanksgiving, and pies at that holiday are big, I thought about putting a pie in the middle of a doughnut, which we’ve done with a baked cherry crumble, and people absolutely love the concept. I wouldn’t put a product in the store if I didn’t believe in it.”

Today, what brings people in to SanRemo Bakery Cafe after 50 years is considerable. Arlo Guthrie once sang, “You can get anything you want, at Alice’s Restaurant,” and the same may be said about SanRemo. Its menu is as diverse as you can possibly imagine, owing to the three Bozzo brother’s love and respect for a wide variety of Italian foods and the freshness of ingredients — its trademark.

“We get a lot of people who drive a long way to our business, so we’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished” — Robert Bozzo

“As an owner, you need the business to evolve as tastes and demographics change,” says Edward. “Yes, we’re an Italian bakery, but you have to accommodate the customers and always try to stay one step ahead of the competition. For example, we could have four flavours of doughnuts, but today we have more than 20 flavours, as I always listen to what the customers want.”

The quality of its food is well-known not only locally, but also across the Greater Toronto Area. “At least 30 to 40 per cent of our customers are what you would call ‘regulars,’” says youngest brother Robert, who manages the store. “But we get a lot of people who drive a long way to our business, so we’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished. And we’re proud to be an independent store, which employs many people.”

Being a staple of the community also means giving back, and Robert says SanRemo will help local schools with fundraisers and support local churches and sports teams, even donating cookies to SickKid’s hospital. “We’re a tight-knit community in this area and we’re proud to be a part of it. We grew with this neighbourhood and as it changed, so did we.”

SanRemo is one of those rare places people can always count on for friendly service and quality of product. As people are sometimes creatures of habit, SanRemo never disappoints in delivering for them. “We follow a routine of what sells on which days,” says Edward. “Like lasagna on Thursdays or fritters on Fridays. People seem to relate to certain things on certain days, and we always deliver that routine for them.”

Robert, Edward and Nick have continued a Bozzo family tradition and made it thrive and succeed as a tribute to old-world values and the romance of handmade craftsmanship and artistry. From getting up at 4 a.m. on weekends as youngsters to come in to the store to spend time with their father, each of them grew to like the experience, the business and the environment. And that pride still shines through today.

“The quality is always there,” says Nick proudly. “Even today my father will walk from the back of the store with bread he has baked with a level of pride that’s never changed. Today, our employees also have that pride and love, and take care of the business as if it’s their own. A family business has family values, and we treat everyone like family.”

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Rick Muller

Rick Muller