Slideshow: Orlando Baking marries the past and present

by Dan Malovany
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More than a quarter century ago, Orlando Baking Co. broke onto the national stage by introducing classic ciabatta to mainstream America. Back then, the regional Italian bakery that has called Cleveland home since 1904 captured the imagination of restaurateurs and retailers with its slipper-shaped Old World bread and portion-controlled rolls that harkened back to the region surrounding Italy’s Lake Como. Since then, ciabatta has become so prevalent that the family bakery no longer tries to trademark its ciabatta name that they legally obtained in the 1980s.

How times have changed — and not. Today, Orlando Baking’s next generation of family members who run the business sits around a table filled with a few plates of freshly toasted bread topped with capers and smoked salmon, accompanied by brewed coffee in a setting that’s more reminiscent of a Tuscan cafe than the innovation center it recently built.

In a building with a facade that looks more like a historic structure in Naples than an industrial bakery in the heart of Ohio, the Orlandos talk with anticipation about the company’s True Grains breads with probiotics that promote digestive health.

Launched in 2012 and influenced by today’s New Age trends, the line of 100% whole grain, sliced breads now carries the Whole Grains Council seal and includes top-selling Seed’licious made with a blend of chia, flaxseed, millet, sunflower seeds and oats. The oxidant-powered Purple Wheat Raisin and reformulated Honey Wheat varieties are what the company deems “bread with benefits.” That’s because they also contain Ganeden Biotech encapsulated probiotic cultures that survive the baking process.

The current leadership team — the fifth generation of family members — seems even more enthusiastic about the line’s two recent additions: a Chia Seed sprouted wheat loaf with antioxidants and omega-3s and Honey Hemp bread that provides a good source of protein and amino acids. Orlando Baking plans to roll out the new items later this year.

Yes, the bakery has come a long way since it began making crusty breads in 1872 in Castel di Sangro, Italy, but then again, it never left home. Rather, it just found itself adapting to the market as any entrepreneurial venture must.

“Everyone is always saying, ‘We love your bread,’ and they’re asking us, ‘What’s next? What’s new?’ ” noted Nick Orlando Jr., vice-president of sales and marketing. “We were looking around, checking into all of the trends and saw that hemp and chia are superfoods. They’re very high in nutrition.”

Just to make sure, the bakery ran the new concepts by experts at the nationally recognized Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, which helped refine, develop and certify the True Grains line as part of the clinic’s Go! Well program. The institute encourages both patients and the public to embrace health and wellness through changes in diet and lifestyle rather than relying solely on traditional medicine.

“We reached out to the Cleveland Clinic and asked, ‘How will these new varieties be perceived in the health food arena?’ They were all over it,” Nick Orlando Jr. said.

That was the thumbs-up they were looking for.

Keep reading to learn how Orlando Baking looks to the past for inspiration.

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