Landmark Framingham bakery continues family tradition despite pandemic – MetroWest Daily News

Restaurant News

During an average week, the company goes through at least 600 pounds of cheese, 2½ tons of flour, 12 cases of tomatoes and 300 pounds of sugar.

FRAMINGHAM – A South Framingham bakery that’s been serving customers for more than a century is continuing to serve the local community using recipes perfected over four generations.

Since 1917, patrons have lined up outside Framingham Baking Co. at 840 Waverly St. (Rte. 135) for a taste of its freshly baked loaves, gooey cinnamon rolls and famous slices of pizza. Only these days, customers don protective masks while they pick up their orders.

The Great Depression, the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918, and the Blizzard of ‘78 weren’t enough to stop the Thomas family from baking, and neither will the current pandemic, said bakery manager Andrea Thomas Dooley.

The landmark bakery was founded by Italian immigrant Pietro Dragone, along with his brother-in-laws Vittorio and Giuseppe Gastone. Guiseppe was killed during a delivery when his horse and wagon were struck by an automobile; and when Vittorio fell ill, the work was passed to Vittorio’s brother-in-law, of the Bertolino family, along with his wife and a business partner.

The bakery has stayed in the family since, and was eventually passed on to current co-owners Joan, Ernie and Kathy Bertolino Thomas.

A nurse for six years, Dooley didn’t expect she’d return to the family store that defined her childhood memories. But when family members asked her to take on the work of her aunt, Joan Bertolino Thomas, who is preparing to retire, Dooley said it wasn’t a difficult decision to make.

“I think because of the legacy we have here keeping customers happy, (and) how many people would be upset if we closed, it makes it easier for me,” she said.

Her role isn’t without its pressures, of course.

“I do have a lot of big shoes to fill,” Dooley said, “My great-grandparents, and my parents as well.”

“Our products are selling so fast, we’re working constantly,” she added. “I’ve made more specialty bread these past two months more than I’ve ever made them – I’m hardly able to keep up with it.”

During an average week, the company goes through at least 600 pounds of cheese, 2½ tons of flour, 12 cases of tomatoes and 300 pounds of sugar.

The menu has expanded significantly since the restaurant’s humble beginnings. Its selection of specialty breads like challah and brioche have increased exponentially, for instance, and Dooley has helped introduce an entirely new selection of pastries. She said the shop’s pizza is its best-seller by far, cooked with creamy, melt-in-your-mouth American cheese instead of the typical mozzarella.

But the traditional breads they’ve been baking for generations, she said, will always be an essential part of the company’s roots.

“We don’t use any preservatives in any of our breads … (and) everything is scratch-made here. It’s made with love,” she said.

Dooley learned from her grandfather that to make the perfect loaf, “the dough doesn’t wait for you. You wait for the dough.”

She explained factors like humidity and temperature mean the rising process can vary widely, from one hour to three. Allowing the dough enough time, though, makes all the difference in ensuring a light, fluffy slice.

The Thomases have also hired several bakers and an overnight crew from outside the family to help them meet demand.

Workers said they’ve come to feel like they’re part of an extended family at the little bakery on Waverly Street.

“This has been a coming-of-age here – I’ve literally grown up in these walls,” said front-end worker Emily Petro. “I actually live here (in the residence above the storefront) with Andrea now that I’m 24.”

“I’ve grown up with this as part of our family since I was born,” Petro added. Despite having a full-time position at a civil engineering firm, she continues to work part time at the bakery she’s fallen in love with. “I can’t even imagine my life without this business.”

Still a small-scale operation, with limited employees, Dooley said she hopes the business can eventually expand all the way “down the East Coast” over the next 50 years, by increasing wholesale purchases with grocery market chains, thereby serving broader regions.

As his daughter Andrea helps carry on the family legacy to the future, co-owner Ernie Thomas said tradition nevertheless remains alive and well in the shop.

“I can remember my grandfather sitting down, smoking his cigar, and watching customers walk through the door,” he said.

“His ghost is still here somewhere – he’s watching over all of us,” he said.

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