For the last 100 years, DiCamillo Bakery has been fine-tuning their line of delicious homemade breads and baked goods. This family-owned operation began back in 1920 when Tomaso and Addorolata DiCamillo opened a storefront bakery in Niagara Falls with the help of their eleven children. Starting with fresh Italian breads made by hand, the family has expanded their product line over the years to include Italian cookies, biscotti, pastries, pizza and even their own marinara sauce. The business has also added four additional locations across Western New York, including a store on Main Street in Williamsville. But their grandparents’ tradition of baking bread by hand has remained uninterrupted, overseen by the second, third and fourth generation taking their turn at the helm. I caught up with Tomaso and Addorolata’s great-grandson, Matthew DiCamillo, to learn more about the company’s secret to longevity, how they hit it big with Neiman Marcus and why he left behind a career as an opera singer to return to Niagara Falls and join the family business.
Visit Buffalo Niagara: More than 100 years! That’s an accomplishment that very few local businesses will ever see. What do you contribute to your family’s success and longevity?
Matthew DiCamillo: A lot of luck and a lot of hard work. We are very fortunate to have a hard-working family and workforce that has been dedicated to making great Italian bakery products each and every day.
VBN: Let’s be honest. Not every family could go into business together and still like each other! What makes your family special in order to remain happy coworkers for so long?
MD: Very true! I would say that our family has been blessed to enjoy hard work and to enjoy each other’s company. Sure, there are differences of opinion at times, but we’ve found that when we look past our differences, we all want many of the same things for and from our business.
VBN: Your family went from baking bread to making pizzas to baking cookies to breakfast platters to gift tins in the Neiman Marcus catalog to shipping all over the world! Talk more about your company’s journey over the years.
MD: I think as we evolved, we tried to listen to the interests of our customers and try to take advantage of the strengths of all the partners. The history of selling our biscotti gift tins nationally began with humble roots as well as a business constraint. Our family had always made authentic Italian biscotti, but it wasn’t until my uncle Michael DiCamillo returned to the business did he explore the possibility of doing more with biscotti. His experience as a retailer combined with his creativity lead to him developing many unique singular gifts with our cookies. At this time in the 1970’s, local bakeries in Niagara Falls were struggling to compete on bread and pizza and cookies alone. We were no exception. Michael asked my grandfather, our president at the time, for some funds and his blessing. Michael travelled to major gourmet food stores in major cities across the country with products and order forms and started selling. The rest as they say… is history.
VBN: You left your job to come back to WNY to work for the family business. Did you always know you’d make your way back? What made you want to leave your career behind to join your father and uncles?
MD: Absolutely not. I had no plans to return to Niagara Falls. I wanted to become a full-time music professor and sing opera. I lived my dream for about six years. I was an adjunct professor at a small college and sang professionally on the side. It was a wonderful time! But as time passed, I lost faith that a music career would be a good choice for me. My wife and I wanted to be close to family, so we moved home. At the time, I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I thought I’d work for the family while I went back to school at UB to get an MBA. I baked bread at 4am and went to school in the afternoons. I had always been good at numbers and I learned that the bakery could use my help, so I felt the ‘calling’ to do my part. Today, I manage our finances and oversee anything technology related. It has been a great decision.
VBN: What stories about your grandparents, great-grandparents or parents have you heard regarding their dedication and hard work that you would want people to know about?
MD: Yes, the stories have always been about how hard everyone worked in my grandfather and great-grandfather’s generations. They worked very long hours and were extremely dedicated. Today, just as 100 years ago, our company culture has always stressed humility and hard work. When my great grandfather arrived in Niagara Falls the big production plants wouldn’t hire him because he was Italian. We’ve always tried to remember how grateful one should be to have a job.
VBN: DiCamillo is known for their bread, delicious, delicious bread I should add. What is it about your bread recipe that makes it the foundation of your business after so long?
MD: It takes a long time to make, almost 4 hours, and it can’t be mechanized without sacrificing quality and taste. We literally need a lot of hands at the table each day because it is in that ‘hand work’ that the magic happens.
VBN: My family is Italian and we’re VERY particular about our Italian cookies. What would you say to a potential new customer who is picky about their pizzelles?
MD: We have been around long enough to accept that there are literally TONS of great Italian cookie recipes that are not ours. Especially here in WNY where the Italian population is so vibrant. I would say that I whole-heartedly respect anyone who prefers a different pizzelle (although I am certainly partial to ours).
VBN: After 100 years your customers are continually turning over. How do you go about connecting with the next generation every time?
MD: Many new generation customers are literally grandfathered into the brand. Many of our products are timeless, but many are also intentionally ‘old fashioned’. Bakery products conjure up cultural nostalgia among people. Many new customers are looking to connect to their past. This is an authentic experience that we provide. Aside from that, we try to stay current on the modalities we use to connect with potential new customers. Instagram is probably a good example of this.
VBN: Buffalonians LOVE the tastes of home and of their childhood. What percentage of your business is shipping to Buffalo or Niagara Falls ex-pats?
MD: My uncle always says that Niagara Falls’ greatest export is its people. At dicamillobakery.com we definitely have a very large number of ex-pats who make up our total shipments out of town. Most of these ex-pats are looking for bread, peanut stick donuts, and kummelweck rolls, all of which we ship in large volumes. We are also fortunate to offer a Fed Ex overnight option on these shipments at a competitive rate.
VBN: What’s the furthest you’ve ever shipped an order?
MD: In the 1980’s we once shipped product to a customer in India.
VBN: And finally, as inquiring minds want to know… I always decline having my pizza warmed up when I visit your Williamsville location. Why is it just so darn good cold??
MD: Excellent question! And you are definitely not the only one who prefers our pizza cold. I think at room temperature or cold you get the true flavor of all the great ingredients.