From Left: Mike Marcucci, Larry Marcucci

Road less traveled
In 1977, Mike and Larry Marcucci teamed up and went out on their own. After working at then Chicago-basedGonnella Baking, where their grandfather was president for 49 years, the two cousins started their journey by purchasing a Detroit bakery that had run into financial difficulties. Initially, they hoped to transform the fresh-baked bread and roll operation into a frozen dough business, a burgeoning category at the time.

However, as is often the case in life, things just didn’t go according to plan.

“If you go to Wikipedia and look up the phrase, ‘you don’t know what you don’t know,’ there’s probably a picture of Mike and me in our 20s,” Larry Marcucci deadpanned during an interview with Baking & Snack last year.

Today, Larry Marcucci, c.e.o. of Alpha Baking Co., and Mike Marcucci, its chairman, have built one of the industry’s most respected businesses. The Chicago-based company now operates six bakeries and employs 1,800 people throughout four Midwestern states. The bakeries produce more than 2,000 stock-keeping units, mainly for food service but also for retail and in-store bakeries. And it’s known for making several Windy City classics — including S. Rosen’s rye bread and the signature poppy seed-topped buns served by 90% of hot dog restaurants (preferably without ketchup) in the Chicago area.

“We are a customer-focused bakery,” Larry Marcucci said last year. “A lot of people say that, but we live and die by the needs of the customers.”

Certainly, Alpha Baking faced its share of growing pains, surviving the astronomical interest rates of the 1980s during its formative years. Since then, the company has made more than a half-dozen acquisitions and mergers, transforming several troubled businesses into profit centers. Larry Marcucci said some of Alpha Baking’s biggest milestones include the 1997 purchase of National Baking of Chicago, its biggest competitor as it was growing up, and receiving numerous supplier-of-the-year awards from its customers.

“As a customer-focused company, that’s what we’re shooting for,” he explained. “It’s nice to be recognized that you put forth the effort and people appreciate it.”

The Baking Hall of Fame also recognizes the cousins for their involvement in industry associations with Mike Marcucci serving as an A.B.A. past chairman and Larry Marcucci as past chair of the A.S.B. Over the past three decades, both have been actively involved on the boards of the A.B.A. and AIB International. The company also has generously supported many charities throughout the Midwest over the years.

“As impressive as their accomplishments at Alpha Baking are, what distinguishes Mike and Larry Marcucci is their deep commitment and active participation in giving back to the baking industry,” noted Robb MacKie, president and c.e.o. of the A.B.A.

Having surrounded themselves with a solid management team — including Mark Marcucci, Larry’s brother and recently named president of the company — the cousins’ next priority is to make Alpha — as well as the baking industry — stronger in the foreseeable future.