Tony Gnerri runs A&L Italian Bakery, opened in 1978 by his parents Amedeo and Rita, who had come to the United States ten years earlier.While East Boston is fast asleep, Antonio “Tony” Gnerri is making sure the neighborhood will have all the bread and cookies it needs the next day.
In fact, if you drive down Sumner Street early in the morning, roll down your windows and let the scent of A&L Italian Bakery’s freshly baked loaves and flavorful pastries fill your car.
“The people who live around here always tell me how they love that smell in the morning,” says Tony, who runs the bakery. “If we shut down, some say they wouldn’t know what to do.”
Luckily for the neighbors, Tony recently bought a house in Revere, meaning he’ll have many years of work ahead of him to pay off the mortgage. “I guess we won’t shut down just yet,” he says, smiling.A&L isn’t just a job for Tony. It is part of the family history, and he is now carrying on the tradition his grandfather started back in Italy. “When I was little, I’d come back from school and I’d stay in the bakery, where my parents were working. I’d sometimes even take naps on the bags of flour. Now I work seven days a week in here. I come in at seven in the evening and stay until six or seven the next morning, depending on orders and things to do.”
In a way, it is fitting that Tony has taken over the bakery his father Amedeo started in the late ’70s. After all, the bakery is named after him and his brother Louis.
“They were little kids when we bought the place,” says Rita, Tony’s mother. “It cost us $22,000 at the time, and we actually didn’t have that much money. Just a couple of years before, we had taken over a bakery across the street named Rinaldi’s, which used to be a historic bakery called Albano.”
The couple mustered what they could and gave it a shot anyways. “We had nothing to lose,” says Rita, “so we went ahead and bought the building.” That was 1980, and the Gnerri family has been at the 330 Sumner Street location ever since.Rita came from the town of Bonito, near Avellino, to East Boston in 1970, the year she married Amedeo, who had come to the United States two years earlier. Amedeo is originally from the town of San Giorgio del Sannio, near Benevento. After a few years of various jobs and the birth of their two sons, the couple bought a pizzeria in Chelsea, but sold it in 1977, when they traveled back to Italy for family matters. After another three years, they opened A&L Bakery.
Both Rita and Amedeo still work in the bakery, helping their son with daily and nightly operations. Rita comes in the afternoon to help out front and to prepare some things for the next day. When Tony comes in at night, he finds cookies, pies and pastries prepared by his mother during the day. It is a wide assortment of pastries: Elephant ears, chocolate chip cookies, apple and blueberry turnovers, squares, biscotti and much more. “The first thing I do when I get here is put these in the oven,” he says.
Tony’s father, Amedeo, still likes to work — and occasionally repair — the machines in the back.“My father is not the type to sit still,” says Tony. “Six years ago he went to Genova in Italy just to buy this machine.” He points at a huge device made of several different parts, built by the Italian company Turri.
“First you put the dough in the dough divider,” he says while opening the lid over a metallic upside down cone. “The machine divides the dough based on how big you want the bread to be. Then it transfers the dough to the conical rounder.”
As it spins, the conical rounder shapes the dough into a ball, after which it is dropped inside an individual basket. When the lines of small baskets are filled, the dough is finally moved to a pressing machine, where it is flattened and then rolled in a long sausage-like shape.
“That’s basically it,” says Tony. “All you have to do after that is let the rolls raise and then you place them in the oven.”
These days, A&L Bakery’s main product is the Spacchi, a small oval-shaped bread especially good for subs and sandwiches. “When there were more Italians in the neighborhood, we’d make heavier and bigger breads like the Bastone and the Scali. Italians love to eat a lot of bread. Now people are asking for smaller breads, so that’s what we focus on. But people who used to live here still come down to buy our bread because they say they can’t find it anywhere else.”