by Ernie Grzeca
“We Bake To Differ.” Not just a catchy slogan but also a real commitment by five generations of the Gonnella and Marcucci families. “At Gonnella Baking Co., we care about our product. It’s the quality. It’s the freshness. It’s the texture, the aroma and the crispiness. No detail is too small for our bakers not to fret over,” a company spokesperson says. “Our customers appreciate the combination of Old-World quality at a very competitive price.”
That Old-World quality began in 1886 when Alessandro Gonnella came to the United States looking to fulfill the American Dream. He bought a small storefront bakery on Chicago’s De Koven Street, where he perfected his trade. For many years it was a one-man operation. He mixed the dough, baked the bread, delivered the products and even kept the books for his fledgling neighborhood enterprise. His hard work and long hours paid off. Gonnella’s little business thrived.
A few years later, Gonnella returned to his home in Barga, Italy, to marry Marianna Marcucci. In 1896, he moved his bakery shop to a larger building on Sangamon Street. By then he had brought his wife to the United States. In the early 1900s, his young brothers-in-law — Lawrence, Nicholas and Luigi Marcucci — left Italy to join Gonnella in the United States to assist with the growing business.
When the Erie Street plant was built in 1915, Gonnella’s horse-drawn delivery wagons were making more than 200 stops per day. More plants were purchased, and by the end of World War II, the sale of baked goods to grocery stores and restaurants had replaced home deliveries.
In the mid-1970s, Gonnella Baking Co. started producing frozen dough, establishing a strong presence as a supplier to the in-store bakery industry. As demand increased, production facilities were opened, first in Schaumburg, Ill., and more recently in Hazle Township, Pa. Gonnella frozen dough products are now distributed nationwide.
The Gonnella and Marcucci families are still operating the business much as their grandfathers and great-grandfather did so many years ago. Thirty-six family members work for the company today. “We are taught from an early age that getting along is paramount,” one family member says. “Gonnella Baking Company is not the result of any one person; it is a family, working together, for the common good. Every family member starts out the same way — at the business end of a broom.”
Family members joining the business are usually experienced in bakery clean-up by age 16. After that, some go into the bakeshop, while others prefer working in the office or perhaps outside sales. The company tries to fit individuals into jobs that are fulfilling and productive. For younger members in high school or college, schedules can be hectic, but that’s how the family business is learned. As one family member puts it, “You can’t major in work ethic in college.”
Today, Gonnella Baking Co. has four different plants and produces more than 4 million pounds of product each week. That’s quite a remarkable transformation from the days when a few hundred loaves a week were produced in the basement shop on De Koven Street. But, the bread that comes out of the ovens today is the same Old-World product that Alessandro Gonnella produced over a century ago.
Gonnella Baking Co.
1117 E. Wiley Road
Schaumburg, Ill. 60173