North End History: It Takes a Family a Bakery to Make

It Takes a Family a Bakery to Make

There’s nothing quite so comforting as walking home in the early morning with a warm loaf of bread cradled in one’s elbow. It’s like holding a warm baby straight from the bath in the crook of your arm. You cradle it carefully so as not to crush the newly-baked bread. Once home, you sit down at the kitchen table, sneak the butter from the fridge, and open a jar of jam. With mounting anticipation, you prepare for a delicious breakfast.

And for just a few moments you’re able to banish all thoughts of consuming those carbs, the butter, and sugar-rich jam. You luxuriate in the extraordinary goodness of the soft loaf of bread still warm from the oven – just one of the many small pleasures that Parziale & Sons has been offering the North End for over a century.

Today, only three bakeries remain in Boston’s North End: Parziale’s, Boschetto’s and Anthony Bova & Sons. Each has managed to outlast dozens of their bretheren – venerable names such as Bucchieri, Bombaderi, Calia, Coppola and Drago, as well as Freni, Josie’s, Manne’s, Orlando, Oterie and Vigorito.  These family names still live on today although their businesses have long since passed away.

One key to the extraordinary longevity and success of these three remaining bakeries is simple – it takes a family a bakery to make. None exemplifies this more than A. Bova & Sons Bakery founded on the corner of Salem and Prince Streets in the early 1920s. And, ironically, it was Guiseppe Parziale who introduced Anthony Bova into the North End bakery business from the very beginning.

Parziale had settled in the North End in 1907 and set up shop at 7 Charter Street where he began producing both bread and babies in great number. Over the next decades he and his wife Anna produced 12 sons and daughters. But Guiseppe could not afford to wait for his sons to grow up. Business was booming. He needed to hire more help. So once he moved operations to 79 Prince Street, he brought over to America a young Italian baker by the name of Antonio Bova.

The timing could not have been better. The influx of Italians to the North End was just beginning. By 1910, Italian immigrants comprised almost 10,000 and over the next 20 years the Italian population would more than triple to 37,000. At its peak in 1935, 44,000 Italians were packed into an area less than one square mile in size. The “Little Italy” neighborhood had become 99.9% Italian and was said to be more densely populated than Calcutta.

Antonio (a.k.a. Anthony) and Guiseppe worked side by side until the Parziale Bakery moved across the way to its current 80 Prince Street address. By this time, Bova had become an accomplished baker in his own right.  Thus began the North End bakery dynasty: A. Bova & Sons Bakery.

Birth of the Bova Dynasty

Anthony continued to operate his bakery at 79 Prince Street and also became a partner at the Calia Bakery (later known as the North End Bakery) located just next door to Parziale’s new shop at 74-76 Prince Street. When Calia’s lease was up, Anthony took over the operations there. Eventually, two of his sons, Ralphael and Georgi, ran this North End Bakery along with their cousin Bill Marra, while his three other sons, Biagi, Joseph and Frankie, ran the A. Bova & Sons Bakery across the street.

After a number of years, brothers Biagi and Frankie opted out of the family business. Biagi and his family moved out to Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he opened up his own bakery. And Frankie, who found that running a bakery was too strenuous a line of work, sold out to open up his own breakfast and lunch diner; he died at the relatively young age of 48.

The family decided they needed to consolidate operations. The Bova Bakery moved across the street to 74-76 Prince Street (leaving behind what later was to become a dental office, but that is still another story). The bakery was greatly enlarged, new ovens were installed, and eventually a whole new space was added with the acquisition of the storefront at the corner of Salem and Prince Streets, where A. Bova & Sons now reigns supreme.

Today, the Bova Bakery operates around the clock, 24/7, 168 hours a week. So, you need a calzone “fix” at 2:30 a.m.? Heading out early to P’Town or up to Vermont for the weekend and want a few loaves of scalia for the trip? Dying for mid-day taste of an Italian sub or a couple of traditional spuckies? Invited to a rooftop pizza party at 8 p.m., but Umberto’s, Parziale and Boschetto’s are closed? No problem; Bova’s pizza squares just came out of the oven bubbling hot! A. Bova & Sons is far more than a traditional Italian bakery; it’s become a veritable emporium for authentic baked delights.

It Takes A Whole Family to …

So, how do you run a bakery 24-hours-a-day, non-stop without encouraging an early and untimely death, an increased divorce rate or the inevitable burnout? Leave it to the third generation of Bova’s to come up with an ingenious, unique family solution!

The answer is in the generation of numbers. Literally. Today’s heirs to the Bova dynasty include: Anthony and his brother Ralphie (sons of Ralphael), Dr. Anthony Bova (the local dentist from 79 Prince Street) and his brother Georgi (sons of Georgi), and Joey Jr. (son of Joseph).  Each of these brothers and cousins operate jointly the bakery full-time for six months and then take one year off in between stints at the ovens.

Thus, for example, Joey Jr. (with his wife Diana) is now running the bakery since last February and will continue through this coming August. At which time, on the last Sunday night in August, Dr. Anthony Bova and his brother Georgi will take over operations and run the bakery until the 1st of February 2008. Their mother, Annette, serves as the chief supervisor overseeing bakery operations (just as Diana currently does with her husband Joey Jr. during the current six months).  On the 1st of February, cousins Anthony (the fourth “Anthony” named after the family patriarch) and his brother Ralphie will take over the bakery for the next six months until the last Sunday evening of August 2008

In this way, each brother works at the bakery full-time for six months and then has one year off. The schedule is such that no one repeats the same time slot each year (i.e. Joey and Diana work the current spring/summer of 2007 and then the autumn/winter period in 2008/09).

During their “off-season” each brother is involved in his other business pursuits.  Thus, for example, Dr. Anthony Bova dons his dental garb to return to his practice at 79 Prince Street. Joey Jr. returns to Randolph to pursue his full-time passion as a cook in his thriving Bova’s Corner Sandwich Shop.  And Anthony, in his off-year assumes responsibility for delivering bakery products across the greater-Boston area.

Passionate Pursuits Prevail

Each cousin has the opportunity to pursue his own passions:  while Dr. Bova administers to the needs of his dental patients during the day, at night he gets to indulge his passion for cooking, crafting incredible calzones, sumptuous ricotta pies, party cakes and cheesecakes, and numerous pastry creations, including Bova’s legendary cream puffs and whoopie pies stuffed with real whipped cream. While Joey Jr., an equally gifted chef and passionate cook, has introduced in recent years a broad array of new deli products and Bova’s line of homemade carryout dinners ranging from creamy pasta alfredo, to tortellini, chicken parmigiana and meatballs with shells.

It’s now 7:05 on a recent Tuesday morning and Anthony sits in the back at a small table totaling the list of the day’s deliveries, which include the small round breads used as soup bowls at Boston Chowder in Faneuil Hall and elsewhere.

Cousin Joey Jr. walks by having just finished up with the evening baking, looking a bit bleary-eyed. And for good reason: if you’d been up most of the night baking hundreds of loaves – baguettes, ronds, bostones and scalia, Tuscan wheats, rings and stubbies – you’d be on the tired side, too. Other members of the bake staff are in the far back of the bakery, sweeping up the flour on the bakery floor, arranging the cooling racks now overflowing with breads, cleaning up from another long night’s work.

But baking breads is only one aspect a full day’s task. Once the major breads are baked – to line the bakery racks and fill the tall bags for delivery to North End and suburban restaurants –  there’s still the focaccia, rosemary-garlic, 8-grain bread with walnuts and cinnamon to bake. Not to mention, depending on the holiday season, all the specialty breads and cookies to create: breakfast Easter bread glazed and topped with hard-boiled eggs, doughnut shaped and crunchy tarali bread, panettone fruit cake, anis cookies and pecan-filled snowball cookies – including a full range of deli treats and homemade carryout dinners.

The Bova Bakery stays ahead of the times by responding to changing tastes and culinary needs. With Parziale next door and Boschetto’s Bakery further up “the Hill” on Salem Street, A. Bova & Sons remains one of the truly great, authentic Italian bakeries of all time, giving strength and sustenance to Boston’s North End.

“Here is bread which strengthens man’s heart and therefore called the staff of Life.”

Psalm 104