Turano Baking: For the love of baking

by Dan Malovany and L. Joshua Sosland
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From the beginning, Turano Baking’s products filled a marketplace void. In the late 1950s, Italian bread in Chicago was just about anything but common.

“In 1958, true Italian bread was difficult to find,” said Giancarlo Turano, who is a principal of the Berwyn, IL, company with his brothers Ron and Tony. “When people bought Italian bread, it meant Italian French bread, 4-in. club rolls and 1-lb Vienna bread.

“Those were the only products you would find in the neighborhood grocery store,” he continued. “We offered traditional products — crusty, chewy bread — to the clientele, who were Europeans, people who enjoyed Italian food.”

“We gave them a touch of home, a little nostalgia,” Tony said. “And we were able deliver to homes. People bought a lot. There were households that purchased more bread than grocery stores did. That was how much was consumed per person.”

Also helping pave the way for Turano into supermarkets was its growing variety of products . In addition to the Pane Turano round, the company offered a twisted loaf, an Italian split and an Italian round.

“The grocery stores were reluctant to bring in another Italian bread,” Ron said. “There wasn’t that much demand at the time. Why do they need another? We brought variety.”

Many of the supermarkets that began buying Turano’s products were small independents, operating one to three stores. During the 1970s and 1980s, some of these grocers expanded rapidly to major supermarket chains, and Turano grew with them, Tony said.

By the mid 1970s, Turano bread was being sold to food service customers as well.

“Before then, Italian restaurants bought French bread and cut it into pieces,” Giancarlo said. “Smaller and newer restaurants gravitated toward our products once we began hitting the grocery stores.”

While the expansion of supermarket customers and restaurant sales helped the company grow, Tony identified another key to growth. “Innovation in equipment — in the ability to mass-produce baked foods automatically while still following the same process we did by hand — was key,” he said. “The hand is the best tool we know. Before that time, equipment was geared almost exclusively toward the sliced bread market. With the help of equipment makers, we were able to mass-produce Pane Turano, our round bread.”

“Before the advent of variety bread in the 1970s, there weren’t many tools available, and bakeries like ours required a lot of hand operations,” Ron said.

“I used to stand next to my father, [Mariano Turano], hand-rounding the bread,” Giancarlo recalled. “Dad would say, ‘Be gentle.’ He’d say, ‘Use your whole hand, the heel of your hand!’ ‘That’s too tight. Slow down!’ The equipment must simulate the process of the human hand. It must be as gentle.”

Ron shared a different memory related to quality, namely his father’s reluctance to make changes that would risk the company’s product. “When someone came in and said, ‘I have a new mixer,’ Dad would reply, ‘No, no. I’m not changing it. I’m happy with the product,’” he said. “One day a guy came in to sell an entire line. Dad was worried. The salesman finally said, ‘Mariano, do you want to make good bread or do you want to make money?’

“My father said, ‘Get out of here,’” he continued. “From that day, whenever the salesman came back, he was afraid to face any us. We all were resistant to change that might affect quality.”

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