Bread and the Connection to Place

This post is a part of a larger oral history project: Babka and Beyond: Bread, Grains and Baked Goods in Western PA. To find out more about this project and listen to full interviews, click here.

One of the first things I was told upon moving to Pittsburgh was that it is a “city of neighborhoods.” This was hard to comprehend. Couldn’t you say this about every city? A center point surrounded by patchworks of zip codes. But it was adamantly repeated to me over and over again, always with the follow-up that if I just toured the neighborhood I would see what they meant. I lived it Bloomfield at the time, known as the “Little Italy” of Pittsburgh. On my morning walks to the coffee shop or grocery store, I began to notice the markers of what made Bloomfield “Little Italy-- the storefronts that once held bakeries, butcher shops, corner markets.

Tucked back down one of the side streets, nestled between row houses and draped with ivy is Sanchioli Brothers Bakery. I will admit, my first time to the bakery involved a few wrong turns down the tight streets of Bloomfield. The entrance is through the garage, no “Open” sign or shining entrance way, simply the smiling face of Alex Sanchioli, tall and strong covered with a light dusting of flour as all good bakers are.

Alex Sanchioli in front of his oven in Bloomfield, Pittsburgh  Photo by Emeran Irby

Alex Sanchioli in front of his oven in Bloomfield, Pittsburgh

Photo by Emeran Irby

It’s hard to miss the oven sitting at the center of the Sanchioli Brothers bakery. “Standard Oven Co Pittsburgh PA” inblazen across the front, stained with soot from when the oven used to be wood-fired. This oven has been in the bakery since it opened in 1921, still baking dozens of loaves in the early morning mist. But Pittsburgh being the “city of neighborhoods”, there couldn’t be just one oven like this. Just 10 miles away in McKees Rocks, another historically Italian blue collar community, sits Mancini’s Bakery founded in 1926 with the same Standard Oven Co oven.

Video by David Bernabo

Though Sanchioli Brothers and Mancini’s Bakery have followed very different trajectories, their business values remain closely aligned-- a strong connection to community, family, and the historical importance of bread. Both are still baking the same recipe of bread as they were in the 1920s, with variations existing alongside. These bakeries hold the fabric of Pittsburgh bread together, standing the test of time.

We often think of bread as the foundation of a meal, existing across cultures and communities, the variations telling us so much about where they exist, but the base always flour, water, salt. As more and more bakeries pop up in the many neighborhoods of Pittsburgh, it is important to look to places like Sanchioli and Mancini’s for guidance and perhaps even reverence of the trade.

Emeran Irby

Oral History Coordinator, CRAFT