Nearly 140 years ago, Giustino Orlando founded his namesake bakery in Castel de Sangro, Italy. Two of his sons, Vincenzo and Giuseppe, brought their father's baking traditions to Cleveland in 1904, setting up shop on Central Avenue. It was the starter that gave rise to a Cleveland institution.
In 2010, Orlando Baking Company celebrates 106 years of baking in Cleveland – and five generations of familial baking bliss, delivering Old World breads from a modern bakery.
More than two dozen family members work at Orlando, and the company employs nearly 400 people. The entire Orlando family call northeast Ohio home, and always has, so there's a deep-kneaded interest in the betterment of the region.
Since 1979, the company's production facility, the fourth in its history, has been the epicenter of the near East Cleveland neighborhoods around Grand Avenue. The sprawling facility, an aromatic bastion of modernity in a neighborhood that's seen brighter days, has been expanded three times since its opening, now more than 200,000 square feet.
Firing the Ovens
The production facility is a hotbed of activity. It's a noisy maze of tunnel ovens and spiraling towers of cooling bread, with an army of hair-net clad employees tucked away in different areas, diligently working together, though with different tasks. To be expected, the air is filled with the intoxicating aroma of freshly baked bread, and dedicated departments, such as the "garlic line", add to the melange.
The scale is enormous. "When we get full shipments of flour, the trucks deliver it directly to our silos," says plant operations manager John C. Orlando Jr. "We get three or four trucks per day, and there's probably over 10,000 pounds in each truck. We go through a lot of flour."
John is visibly proud of the facility, as he details the inner workings of each oven, each station, each step of the production. He's been close to the operations since he was a young boy, following in the footsteps of his father. If there's an issue in production, John knows about it. More important, he knows how to fix it.
Hearth baked breads, most loaves, emerge from a 30-minute, 450°F trip down an oven built at the facility's opening in 1979. More than three decades later, it capably churns out golden brown loaves at the rate of 2,000 per hour, 18 hours a day. At approximately 100-feet long, it means baking business.
In one of the facility's more recent additions stands a decidedly more modern looking machine. John gushes over it, like a child would a new bike. The three-deck Rheon tunnel oven features steps, matching the quantity and quality of the 100-foot ovens in 60 feet. "It's the first one in North America," says John. "This one is from France."
While the foundation of flour, water and yeast is the same, this is hardly a neighborhood bakery. Machines transform 500 to 1,000-pound blocks of dough into batches of bread. Conveyor belts work overtime, transporting a seemingly endless stream of frozen Texas toasts, packaged for different distributors, destined for restaurants and frozen food aisles. The pantry is a warehouse of ingredients, looking more like a stockpile for the apocalypse than a baker's arsenal. Still, there's an unmistakable air of familiarity in it all.
As is commonly the case, the Great Recession has impacted Orlando. The bulk of its business comes from restaurants – 70 percent restaurant, 30 percent retail, according to John Anthony Orlando, executive vice president of operations. "With a lot of restaurants closing, especially locally, less people going out, the restaurant industry is very erratic," he says. "When they're slow, we're slow."
The Orlando team provides breads for numerous local Italian eateries, as well as local chains, such as Mr. Hero and Yours Truly, and national chains, such as BW3 and Marco's Pizza.
"If you keep doing the same thing, you're going to get run over by your competition," says Chris Orlando, process engineer manager. Born of the creative spirit was Orlando's Oops bread, discounted breads sold at area Marc's locations.
"We have to provide restaurants with fresh bread every day," says John Anthony, explaining that the baking starts at midnight, though orders may not come in until the last minute, forcing adjustments that will dictate whether they need to make more, or will be left with a surplus based on their projected orders. "We can't give extra inventory to restaurants the following day because we promise them fresh bread each day.
"So, we came up with "Oops" we over-baked". Tradition also factors heavily in decision-making.
"I always wanted to do it," says Chris. "Since I was young, I always wanted to be in the bakery." Chris has been working for his family's company since he was 13, starting in the docks, helping during summer and winter breaks from school. "I saw what my father was doing, how successful he was, and I wanted to do more." He wasn't the first Orlando to feel that way, and likely not the last.
Amid the mammoth ovens and mechanized mass baking, employees work dough by hand. Beneath the roar of one oven, a man stretches, rolls and shapes what will become a party sub bun. Tucked away elsewhere, Pane Nicola, a rustic cousin of ciabatta whose name roughly translates to "Nick's bread" and is named for Nick Orlando Sr, is formed as a man twists the dough into its unique wound shape. The fabulously crusty vessel for Michael Symon's B Spot burgers are handmade here, too.
In 1987, Orlando became the first bakery in the United States to produce ciabatta bread. It was Nick Orlando Sr's idea, and he brought bakers from Italy to Cleveland to assist John Orlando in developing a recipe that could be mass produced. While the Orlandos were thrilled with the product, the unusually porous, strangely flat and confusingly spelled bread was somewhat lost on Clevelanders. In a rare move that broke with tradition, the Orlandos began producing a a denser, thicker bread to meet customer demand. "We lost sight of the structure, the traditional ciabatta," says John Anthony. "We tried making what the customer wanted, while other companies starting producing classic ciabatta, and we lost our niche." It didn't take long for the company to return to the historically proven methods.
"A lot of these other bakeries don't take that extra time in the development process," says John Anthony. "We let our sponges ferment for 18 to 24 hours, and then we'll make the bread the following day; whereas a lot of bakers will make a dough then bake it right away, and call it ciabatta bread. It's not the same thing."
In keeping with tradition, Orlando will have a booth at this year's Feast of the Assumption in Little Italy, where they'll be serving pizza made on their ciabatta bread.