BiagioSettepani is a true American success story. After immigrating to the U.S. at age 13 with no knowledge of baking, he and his family built what could be the beginning of a baking empire. Pasticceria Bruno offers a seamless melding of bakery and foodservice.
In many industries, those who hunger the most for knowledge have the most success. Biagio Settepani, owner of Pasticceria Bruno in Staten Island and Bruno Bakery in Manhattan, is such an example. Pasticceria Bruno is Modern Baking's 2008 Retail Bakery of the Year.
This summer, Modern Baking called on its readers to nominate the best retail bakeries in the country. The nominations were judged on several criteria, including sales, product quality, management and training systems, merchandising, marketing plans and industry service. Biagio Settepani is a CMB and multiple pastry award winner who exemplifies the spirit of Modern Baking's annual award because of his eagerness to share his knowledge to better the industry.
When the Settepani family came to the United States in 1973, 13-year-old Biagio needed a job. Without knowing a thing about baking, he began working in a local bakery in Brooklyn.
“I was amazed,” he recalls. “With never having worked in a bakery before, I never knew what would happen when you whipped egg whites. I remember putting egg whites in the mixer and before I knew it, it was this big pile of meringue.”
His amazement turned to a passion for the trade he knew so little about. “I wanted so much to learn how to do things, but it didn't come easy. Maybe that was the stimulation,” he says.
As he learned about the production aspect of baking, he also gained knowledge of how to create a successful bakery. Along with his family; wife Pina, daughter Fina and sons Salvatore and Joseph; Biagio has built his business to three locations and maintains success by focusing on branding, adhering to high standards and leading by example.
It all began in 1980, when at age 21, Biagio bought his first bakery. After 15 months, he began looking for a new location and found it in Greenwich Village in Manhattan. With no money to form a new corporation, he kept the original name: Bruno Bakery.
Biagio began taking classes that bakery supply companies offered. He already knew Italian pastries and breads, but the classes introduced him to traditional cakes, French pastries and chocolates. The classes led to competitions. It was through competitions that his thirst for knowledge was finally being quenched.
“I saw things I never saw before, and I brought it back to the shop and worked on it. The competitions were another way to really get your name out there,” he adds.
As he entered more competitions, his business continued to grow. Today, the Settepani family owns Bruno Bakery in Manhattan and two Pasticceria Bruno locations in Staten Island. The number of locations under the Bruno umbrella has fluctuated, but one of the largest influences on the business' future was September 11.
While the rest of the country was back to business as usual shortly after the attack, it took almost a year for the bakery to regain the 40 percent of business it had lost. With the added security around the city, the commute from the family home in Staten Island to Manhattan grew to two hours each way. The Settepanis decided to start looking for locations closer to home. After about three years of searching, they found a location on Staten Island. In December 2004, one week before Christmas, Pasticceria Bruno opened on Hylan Blvd.
Power of branding
The new location sported a different name from the established Bruno Bakery in Greenwich Village because another Staten Island bakery already had a similar name, Buono Bakery. Biagio added “pasticceria” to further differentiate his business. His Manhattan bakery retained the Bruno Bakery name, and he used the distinctive “B” that had become his trademark to help identify the new Pasticceria Bruno name and location with the established Bruno Bakery.
By the time the Settepanis opened Pasticceria Bruno, they had learned the power of branding. The trademarked “B” came to connote quality and high standards. All bakery employees, both front of the house and production staff, wear whites. The whites project professionalism that gives employees pride in the job and lets customers know to expect high quality. Biagio uses every opportunity to put his bakery brand in front of customers, from custom Italian chocolate packaging to bags of Pasticceria Bruno-branded coffee.
With the opening of the Staten Island location, the family discovered the business model they see as the future of their success. The retail bakery remains the main draw with pastry-packed showcases and gourmet coffee service. In addition, two dining rooms and outdoor patios provide seating for 100. When the bakery first opened, customers wanted food items, since the location was a former restaurant. Biagio listened and began offering salads and sandwiches, which over the next two years grew into a full breakfast, lunch and dinner menu with table service.
He attributes savory items to the location's success. “If we didn't convert it to what the people wanted, we would be in trouble,” he adds. “Listen to your customers and offer what they want.”
The Settepanis have melded the bakery seamlessly with foodservice. Seated foodservice customers are encouraged to select their dessert from the bakery showcase to be plated and served to them at their table. Front-end staff is cross-trained to wait on customers both at tables and from behind the counter. The bakery also offers catering services that combine its savory items with bakery products.
This model was expanded earlier this year when the Settepanis opened a second Pasticceria Bruno on Staten Island. The new location on Forest Ave., run by son Salvatore and his business partner Franco Franzese, operates similarly to the Hylan Blvd. location. It offers a full bakery product line, but is more foodservice-focused. Almost 75 percent of sales at this location come from foodservice.
The business is a true family affair. Pina runs the front of the shop and handles bookkeeping. Salvatore runs the second location, and daughter Fina helps Pina with the merchandising and marketing as well as running the front of the shop at Forest Ave. while on break from college. Son Joseph, who is still in high school, helps in the bakery when needed. And, Biagio manages production.
Production occurs at all three locations. At the Hylan Blvd. bakery, the back of the house includes a replenishing room where the product for the showcases is kept in the refrigerators. It also is used to assemble cookie trays, which is essential during the busy holidays. A separate chocolate room is kept at 65°F. The bakery production room has a rack oven for pastries and cookies and a deck oven for bread and pizza.
Locking in flavor
The bakery also uses a blast freezer to flash freeze all of its products before moving them to a holding freezer. “The blast freezer keeps the flavor locked in. If you put the product straight into a normal freezer, you lose some of the flavor,” Salvatore says. “A blast freezer shocks everything and stops it, so you have more control of the flavor.”
Seven employees prepare the bakery's line of Italian cookies and pastries, French pastries, pies, tarts, marzipan and bread. Pastry products make up about 80 percent of bakery sales with bread accounting for 20 percent.
Bakery production begins at 9 p.m. when the first bread baker begins cutting and shaping the dough that was mixed earlier in the day. Bakers use a sourdough starter that is fed daily, and bread is made from a high hydration dough with 12-hour fermentation. Another bread baker comes in at 10 p.m., and the pastry chef begins the day at 6:30 a.m.
Inventory is taken every Sunday, and a production list is compiled for every day of the week. Different products are made every day for the store and for the wholesale accounts. Products are made from the highest quality ingredients, including Belgian chocolate, European gelato paste and whole wheat unbromated flour. Raspberry puree is made with 100 percent fresh raspberries and no paste; chocolate mousse is whipped from fresh cream. “I would do a blind taste against anybody with my products. It's in the little things that when you taste something, the quality really shows up,” Biagio says.
A separate room is set aside for gelato production. The bakery sells gelato year-round by the pint as well as by the scoop. “I think people get scared with the word gelato,” he adds. “It's another source to increase your sales. It's not for every bakery, but give it a chance. When you put it in, you have to take the time to educate your customers, and you have to give it time to take off. Not everything is a hit right away. When you introduce new items, it's important that someone is there to explain it to the customers. You can't just put it in the store and expect it to take off.”
In the savory kitchen, William Sanders, the chef, and three employees prepare the location's selection of soups, salads, sandwiches and pasta.
On weekdays, about 60 percent of Pasticceria Bruno sales on Hylan Blvd. are from food items and bakery accounts for 40 percent. On weekends, those percentages swap. Bruno Bakery has remained a more traditional retail bakery, with a smaller menu of salad, soup, sandwiches and pizza.
For the most part, the three locations operate production independently with the Hylan Blvd. location producing the breads, chocolate and holiday specialties for all three bakeries. The bakery product line among the three locations is similar with nearly all of Bruno's more than 300 products available at each location.
While the product line may be the same, the customer base for the three bakeries is vastly different. Bruno Bakery in Manhattan serves a large tourist crowd that are not regular customers. In Staten Island, the same customers frequent the bakery several times a week or even day. “You can start a relationship with the customers, and that's nice,” Biagio says. “You also have to be on your toes because when you have the same customers, you have to make sure everything is top shape. Customers will let us know if we slack off on something.”
“We appreciate that because you know that people care; it makes you feel good,” Pina adds.
In addition to running the bakeries, the man who once was a student, trying to soak up everything he could, has now become the teacher. He regularly has interns from culinary schools working in his bakery. Biagio also sits on the board of the French Culinary Institute in New York and teaches at several industry institutions. He also serves as president of the New York State Association of Manufacturing Retail Bakers.
“I hated the secretiveness of my first boss. You have to be able to share. The only thing I had in the beginning was a will and the passion. I learned a lot from other people,” Biagio says.
AT A GLANCE
Location: Staten Island, New York
Founded: Bruno Bakery, 1981; Pasticceria Bruno, 2004
Web site: www.pasticceriabruno.com
Management: Biagio and Pina Settepani, co-owners; Fina Settepani, public relations; Rosalia Srippi, office manager; Leo Belaj, general manager; Forest Ave. — Salvatore Settepani, co-owner; Franco Franzese, executive pastry chef
Annual sales: Pasticceria Bruno, Hylan Blvd., more than $2 million; Bruno Bakery, $1.2 million
Business: 75% retail, 25% wholesale
Market served: New York metro area, New Jersey and Connecticut
Number of locations: Pasticceria Bruno, 2; Bruno Bakery, 1
Number of employees: Bruno Bakery, 25; Pasticceria Bruno, Hylan Blvd., 30; Pasticceria Bruno, Forest Ave., 25
Bakery size: Pasticceria Bruno, Hylan Blvd., 5,700 sq. ft.; Pasticceria Bruno, Forest Ave., 1,400 sq. ft.; Bruno Bakery, 1,400 sq. ft.
Product line: Italian pastries and cookies, French pastries, artisan bread, pies, tarts, gelato, coffee, soups, salads, sandwiches and entrees
Major equipment: rack oven, deck oven, blast freezer, batch freezer
Plans: open a third Pasticceria Bruno location on Staten Island, look into franchising the brand
Bakery supply distributors: Vesuvio Foods, Swiss Chalet, Paris Gourmet, Howard Gordy
A SAMPLING OF PRICES
|Apple almondine, individual size||$2.85|
|Pear almondine, 7-in.||$14.30|
|Chocolate mousse, mini||$1.75|
|Tiramisu cup, individual size||$3.85|
|Cream puff, mini||$1.50|
|Soft amaretti cookie, per lb.||$14.50|
|Pinoli cookie, per lb.||$20.00|
|Baba rum, individual size||$2.50|
|Marzipan, per lb.||$24.25|
|Cherry pie, 7-in.||$8.00|
|Cinnamon chocolate chip cookies, per lb.||$14.50|
|Cantucci biscotti, per lb.||$14.50|
|Sourdough bread, per lb.||$3.50|
|Focaccia, per lb.||$4.00|
Next stop: franchise?
With many retail bakers struggling to find a way to be successful with one location, Biagio Settepani and his family think they have found the formula for a successful retail bakery franchise. After running a retail bakery, Bruno Bakery, in Manhattan for 23 years, the Settepani family opened its first Pasticceria Bruno in Staten Island in 2004. Customers clamored for savory items, and the bakery delivered with a full menu of breakfast, lunch and dinner items as well as specialty coffees and gelato. The bakery combined its bakery products with a sit-down meal service.
Earlier this year, Salvatore, Biagio's son, opened the second Pasticceria Bruno with his business partner, Franco Franzese. “We're trying to find investors to open more,” Salvatore says. The next stop? New Jersey, then Las Vegas, he says with a smile.
With its signature, trademarked “B” already recognized throughout New York City as indentifying a Bruno product, the bakery may well be on its way to becoming a national brand.
“I think this formula we have can be reproduced anywhere in the country,” Biagio says. The key to the success is knowing both the restaurant and bakery business, and having the willingness to commit the time, Salvatore adds.
“My dream is that eventually Bruno Bakery or Pasticceria Bruno will be a trade name recognized all over the country,” Biago says. “Have it be recognizable everywhere like Ferrari, and obviously known for the best quality.”