Family-owned and still going strong 100 years later is rare after decades of consolidation in the baking industry. The Rotellas understand they’ve gotten lucky with each generation’s dedication to carry on the family business.
“Some restaurants we do business with, it’s over by the second generation because they don’t have the same fervor and determination that their parents did,” said Jim Rotella, vice president of sales for Rotella’s Italian Bakery, La Vista, Neb. “Each generation has wanted to continue this business. That’s been a big factor.”
When Lou Rotella Sr. bought out his brother Ameado, Jim Rotella recalled his Uncle Ameado saying had either of his sons been interested in continuing in the bakery, he would have stayed on as part owner. But without a Lou Rotella Jr. to pass things onto, he did not see a need to keep striving at the bakery. The value of a capable next generation is not lost on Jim Rotella; Lou Rotella Jr., now president and chief executive officer, or Dean Jacobsen Sr, comptroller.
“My kids are now holding up the business with Rocky and Dean’s kids,” Lou Rotella Jr. said. “They’re a part of this now, and we’ve been lucky enough to have even those in the family who no longer work here anymore because they cared a lot. It’s a combination of all of us all these years striving the best we could to keep this place going and grow.”
Each generation has had the opportunity to decide whether they wanted to continue in the family business. All three members of the third generation refused to pressure their children to join the business unless they wanted to.
“I just wanted them to do something that made them happy because if they weren’t happy, they wouldn’t do a good job,” Lou Rotella Jr. said. “But I got lucky that two of my kids wanted to, and they’re good at it.”
Each family member who decides they want to join Rotella’s Italian Bakery has to first want it and then prove their capability, Lou Rotella Jr. explained. Each of the nine family members who are actively working at the bakery have roles that suit their strengths.
“There are so many aspects to the business now that you don’t have to be a baker to work here anymore,” John Rotella pointed out. “There are so many more things to do here, and that’s what is so neat about it: sales, distribution, marketing. There’s a role here for them.”
And it’s a family mentality. Mr. Jacobsen Sr., Jim Rotella and Lou Rotella Jr. claim they’ve never argued in 50 years. While they may disagree, they are always respectful and have each other’s back once a decision is made.
“Everyone in the bakery works together in our fields the same way the kids are now working together,” Lou Rotella Jr. said. “And every single one is trustworthy that they’re doing those jobs.
“I’m so glad that this award went to my dad instead of just me, because it’s not just me, it’s we. It’s all of us together.”
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.