Brothers John Milone and Pino Santarpia have come a long way since 1977, when John was 16 and decided to stay in the United States, while his parents moved back to their native Turin, in northern Italy, taking his younger brother Pino along with them. Between then and 2005, John worked in two different bakeries, until he decided to open his own store alongside Pino, who had come back to the United States in 2000.“One day I told my brother that we should open our own bakery,” says John. “We found this place in Quincy which had been empty for two years. It used to be a taco factory, but it was a bowling alley even before that. We bought it in March 2005, and worked on it non-stop for the next three months. We opened in July of that same year.”
John and Pino put all their baking knowledge and passion into the store, which had to make a name for itself at the beginning.
“We worked very hard when we started,” says John. “I’d be in at 4 a.m. and work until 10 or 11 in the evening. Then I’d go home, take a shower, rest a bit and do it all over again. We also got a bit lucky at first, as other pastry shops in the area were struggling a bit.”Their work was an immediate success and lines were forming on holidays to get the shop’s signature pastries: Tiramisù and Chocolate Nightmare Tortes, Cannoli, Neapolitans and ricotta pies. Bread was also made, although in smaller quantities. Wedding cakes, says John, have been more in demand recently.
“The wedding business for us has quadrupled since we started. Overall, we still focus on individual customers. Between 90 and 95 percent of our sales are retail. I go out of my way to satisfy customers who are disappointed… although there aren’t that many.”
When they started, the store’s only staff was John, Pino and a pastry decorator. From a team of three working around the clock, Fratelli’s now has grown to 30 full-time and 40 part-time employees working between two locations. (A second Fratelli’s opened in Weymouth in 2008.)
The business would probably be even bigger today if not for an adverse circumstance: Shortly before deciding to open Fratelli’s, Pino was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Although news of the disease pushed the brothers to work hard on opening their own store, it eventually caught up with them, forcing both to slow down.
“The first three years were great. We worked so much that we came to the point where it was necessary to open a new store. I’ve had many opportunities in the last few years to open even more stores, but with my brother’s condition deteriorating beginning in 2008, I decided to pull back the reins,” says John.
Discovering Pino’s condition was actually one of the main reasons the two brothers decided to take a shot at opening Fratelli’s. It was also a period of change at White’s Pastry in Brockton, where John and Pino worked side by side since 2000.“I called Pino in 2000 and told him he should come work in the United States,” says John. “I had been working at White’s for several years already, during which the business had been growing.”
Before joining White’s, John had worked for over 10 years at Montilio’s Bakery in Quincy.
“I learned everything there and did all sorts of jobs: From dishwasher to preparing pastries. I was liked by the owner, Ernesto Montilio, an old school Italian baker. He liked people who worked hard and I always did more than I was asked to do.”
Pino, however, had never been a baker before 2000 — the year he finally left the fruit-vending business that was once his father Carmine’s in Turin. Pino and John’s mother Anna Maria had unsuccessfully tried to lure her husband into staying in the United States in the late ’70s.
“My father didn’t like it here and went back to Italy after five years,” says John. “My mother, the oldest of nine siblings, was the only one of her family to go back. Everyone else was here in the United States.”
In order to stay, John had to take his mother’s name and stay with her family. “I never bothered to change it after that. What’s the point?”
The clients definitely don’t mind — as long as the pastries keep coming out as deliciously as they have for the past seven years.
More photos from Fratelli’s: