For the Stolfo family, a love of baking has been passed down through the generations.

For the Stolfos, baking is a family affair

In some families, the passion for baking seems to be contagious.

That’s certainly true for the Stolfo family, where a love of baking has been passed down through the generations. Almost everyone has gotten into the act.

It all began when Rinaldo Stolfo was growing up in Italy and had dreams of coming to America someday and opening his own bakery. Although Rinaldo never knew his dad who died at a young age, he did hear stories from his mother about his father’s love of baking.

“I love baking pastries and I enjoy everything about cakes from start to finish,” says Rinaldo, who pursued his own passion for baking in Switzerland where he studied culinary art. From Switzerland, he journeyed to Montreal where he worked as a pastry chef for the famous Queen Elizabeth Hotel.

“The hotel had a contest for the best pastry display and offered a two-week vacation as a prize,” explains Rinaldo’s son, John. “My father won the contest and chose Dayton, Ohio for his special trip because he had an uncle living here.”

That visit became a life-changer — it was in Dayton that Rinaldo met his wife, Anna. Both say it was love at first sight. Before returning to Montreal, he proposed and a few months later the two were married.

When he returned to town, Rinaldo worked at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Dayton as a pastry chef.

“During a conference at the hotel, Rinaldo had arranged a display of chocolates — a village of chocolate rabbits and sugar eggs as houses,” John explains. “Joann Tucker met my father and commented on his work and said she’d like him to meet her parents who owned Owens Bake Shoppe on West Fairview Avenue in Dayton.”

Her parents were indeed impressed with Rinaldo’s work and offered him an opportunity to work for their bakery. In 1965, after years of decorating and producing pastries for Owens, Rinaldo purchased the shop which eventually became Rinaldo’s Bake Shoppe.

The business was — and continues to be — a family affair. The shop is best known for its fresh strawberry cake, novelty cakes, European pastries and Jewish specialties including challah bread.

“My advice for a new baker is to have passion and a love for hard work,” says Anna Stolfo. “It’s takes hours of preparation and creativity. I believe baking is a work of art.”

At age 83, Rinaldo continues to bake everyday. He’s the first one to arrive at the bakery, generally at 2:30 a.m.

Q. What aspects of baking do you enjoy most?

Rinaldo: “My joy is creating novelty designs out of cake. For the kids I make Sponge Bob, Hello, Kitty , Mickey and Minnie Mouse. We make cakes for people who like football, all kinds of sports. We can make a cake that’s a bottle of beer, a designer purse or high-heeled shoes.”

John: I love baking bread. I like to combine different seeds, fruits and nuts for breads that we can present at the farmer’s markets we from May through October.

Q. Which members of the family have been involved with baking?

Anna: My brother, Dan, worked with us for nearly 50 years. He retired two years ago, but is still available when we get in a pinch. We raised four children , all of whom have worked at the bakery.

Our son John, the oldest, started working here then went out on his own when the Arcade downtown reopened in 1980. His shop was called Lil’ Rinaldo’s Bake Shoppe, which remained there until the Arcade closed in 1992. Our oldest daughter, Nancy, worked at the bakery as a decorator then went to college abroad and pursued fashion design. Our daughter, Linda, worked for us and then went off to college for optometry.

My youngest daughter, Sherry, followed in her father’s footsteps — she went on to study pastry arts at Johnson and Wales in Rhode Island. After graduation, she came back to work for us and now teaches Pastry Arts at The Chef’s Academy in Raleigh.

We have eight grandchildren who have all worked at the bakery from time to time.

Q. What are the challenges and pleasures of a family business?

Anna: The challenges are to keep everyone in the family happy and treat all equally. A strong family upbringing is important. Our children grew up witnessing the hard work and sacrifices my husband and I had made to provide for them . The pleasures are the pride your family takes in the job, the product and a reputation for years of quality and service.

Q. Do you have generations of families that have been bakery patrons?

John: We’ve had parents who had their wedding cake done by us and we’ve also made cakes for their children and grandchildren. We had one family for which Dad did their wedding cake 50 years ago, and I did their 50th anniversary cake — Rinaldo baked it and I decorated and delivered it. I told the couple that when they celebrate their 60th my son Casey will be able to do that cake.

The Westendorf family has four generations of patrons coming to our bakery. It has become a tradition for them to come to every Saturday for cookies and pastry.

Sometimes families move away, but come to the shop when they are back in town for a visit and for those childhood memories of smells and tastes.

Q. Is there a cookbook you especially like and can recommend?

John: My father’s cookbook is his training and imagination. I’ve used “The Pastry Chef” by William Sultan for some advice when I’m not able to ask my dad. We get some good ideas from The Retail Baker’s of America, our baking association.

Q. You’ve always served the Jewish community and sell kosher baked goods. What kinds of specialties does that include?

John: Kosher means that our baked goods are prepared without animal fats and follow the requirements of Jewish law and are supervised by a rabbi. Today we are a kosher pareve bakery supervised by Rabbi Shmuel Klatzkin of Chabad.

We make Challah for the Sabbath and holidays, hamantashen for Purim, honey cakes for the Jewish New Year. We have kosher sponge cakes, chocolate and strawberry tortes, apricot, lemon and raspberry Florentine cookies.

For Passover, we make Sufganiyot — jelly donuts.

Q. What dishes do you make when your own family gets together?

Anna: Lasagna, spaghetti and meat balls, egg plant Parmesan and chicken cutlets. And for dessert we have our signature fresh strawberry cake.

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