Lou Rotella Sr. dreamed of one day having one of the best bakeries in the United States. At this year’s American Society of Baking’s BakingTech conference in March, he will be inducted into the Baking Hall of Fame for achieving that dream with his son Lou Rotella Jr., president and chief executive officer of Rotella’s Italian Bakery, La Vista, Neb.
“So far my dad’s dream has come true because he’s being honored for having one of the best bakeries in the country, and I’m so glad that I have gotten to be a part of it,” Lou Rotella Jr. said.
Lou Rotella Sr.’s vision for the bakery he took over from his father, Alessandro, the founder, grew from a regional wholesale operation to a nationwide supplier of buns, rolls and bread to foodservice and retail operations. Lou Rotella Jr. attributes that leap to his father’s ambition to invest in the business as well as his ability to empower his son, son-in-law and nephew to try new processes, equipment and even launch product lines. These ambitions and values continue today as the fourth generation steps into leadership roles.
The family-owned company also celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2021, which is a reflection of a bakery that has been investing nearly nonstop to keep up with demand for its quality baked goods and commitment to customer service.
The Rotellas have been growing wheat, milling wheat or baking for as far back as the family can trace. In 1850, Domenico Rotella lived in Calabria, Italy, milling his own flour that he used to bake bread in a small wood-fired oven and sold to villagers. His son Alessandro immigrated to the US in 1910 with his wife and daughter and settled in Omaha, Neb. After working for street cars and the railroads, Alessandro Rotella found himself out of work during a 1921 strike, after which he bought a small bakery at 21st and Pierce Street from a local businessman for $25 per month. Alessandro and his wife, Maria, delivered fresh handmade bread to customers by horse-drawn carriages throughout Omaha, establishing a reputation for quality.
In 1948, their son Lou Rotella Sr. returned from serving in the US Army in Germany during World War II and took over the family business with his older brother, Ameado. Lou Rotella Sr. was committed to maintaining Rotella’s Italian Bakery’s reputation for quality bread.
“From my grandfather to my father, all you had to learn was how to be a baker, how to bake bread,” Lou Rotella Jr. said. “When it got to me, I had to learn how to run a business.”
At its start, Rotella’s Italian Bakery made a handful of products: hoagies, hard rolls, the twist roll and Vienna roll as well as a pastry and cake portfolio. All of it was done by hand and delivered fresh daily. Today, the bakery offers about 500 SKUs of both fresh and frozen bread products that are sold to retail and foodservice accounts nationwide including restaurants, national chains and commercial assemblers. Between the two poles of this history lie a healthy amount of ambition, hard work, forward-thinking and sometimes luck.
This article is an excerpt from the February 2023 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Rotella's Italian Bakery, click here.