To taste what bread was like in the North End over 100 years ago, one can head down to Prince Street and walk into Parziale’s Bakery.
The Parziales have been baking bread in Boston since 1907, when Giuseppe “Joe” Parziale came from Italy with his wife Anna and opened a small bakery on Charter Street.
Many things in the neighborhood have changed since then, including the bakery’s address — which is now 80 Prince Street — but the Parziale family still churns out crunchy loaves of Bastone just like it did back in the day.“The bread is made just the same way my grandfather used to make it,” says Augustine “Augie” Parziale, the third generation of the family currently running the bakery. “We don’t use any preservatives and we let the dough rise twice before placing it in the oven.”
The recipe is the same one grandfather Joe brought with him from the province of Naples, but Augustine learned to knead and bake bread from his father Arcangelo, better known as Angelo.
“I didn’t get to know my grandfather that well,” says Augie. “I was a teenager when he passed away, and my parents had been working in the bakery since 1933. My father was given the bakery that year as a wedding gift when he married my mother Brigitte.”
Between then and 1950, Angelo and Brigitte had five children: Ferdinand, Anne, Loretta, Sandra and Augustine.
“You can say we grew up in the bakery,” says Augie. “As a boy, I’d be in here every chance I had, throwing dough around or helping out with whatever needed to be done. It was my life. Then I got married and took one of the apartments over the bakery, so it was really easy to go from home to work.”
Augie took over the family business in 1986, when his mother fell sick. Now that he is older, though, he has left many of the bakery’s daily operations to other members of the family, stopping by around 4:30 in the morning to check how things are going.
“It’s all about family,” he says. “Family is the most important thing in a business like this. It’s a hard life, so you need family to keep going. I used to work with my brother Ferdinand until he passed away in 2002. Now it’s up to my children, my nieces and my nephews to carry on.”
Augie’s eldest son, 37-year-old Augustine, recalls the days he’d sneak in as a kid to take in the smell of fresh bread in the morning.
“I loved it in here. People come in at all hours for our bread,” he says. “We’re closed only between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m., then we re-open to start working on the next day’s bread. You’d be surprised to see how many people, like cab drivers, stop by during the night just to get a loaf of bread.”Augie’s other son Aldo, 30, prepares the renowned Parziale tomato and cheese pizza, drizzled in fine extra virgin olive oil and works at the bakery’s two ovens alongside his cousin Matthew. At the front, Augie’s niece Maria takes care of sales.
Although Parziale’s is known for its bread, it also serves pastries, cookies and muffins, as well as a few specialty breads.
“The shop actually used to sell all sorts of groceries when I was a child,” says Sandra, one of Augie’s sisters. “It was a long time ago, but we sold cold cuts, coffee, tomatoes… you name it. Then the bread business picked up and we focused just on that.”
Sandra, who still lives in the North End and often goes to Italy to visit the land her grandparents came from, was not as involved as her brother Augie in the family business growing up, but she never managed to let go of the family’s passion for bread.
“I still go to the bakery every Saturday to lend a hand,” she says, “and I make my own bread at home. When I was younger we’d have a stand selling our bread during St. Anthony’s Feast. I used to do that all the time. Then we stopped doing it, but now the boys have picked up that tradition again, and I think it’s been three years we have had a stand at the feast.”
Sandra is now working with her niece Patty on a new and revamped website.
In 2007, Parziale’s Bakery celebrated its 100th anniversary with Mayor Tom Menino, who distributed free bread alongside Parziale family members to hungry passersby. On that occasion, the mayor placed a commemorative plaque right in front of the shop’s entrance, and had a sign attached to the street light just outside.
Pictures of the event, as well as old family photos, are hanging today at the store windows, narrating the long and ongoing family history.
The best testimony to the Parziale’s long history, though, remains their bread, a 105-year-old North End tradition that lives on.