In the middle of an ever-changing neighborhood, one little Italian bakery remains true to its heritage more than a century later.
Ferrara Bakery opened in 1908 and has been family-owned ever since. Its founder, Salvatore Ferrara, came to the United States from Italy in 1900. At the age of 24, he opened the bakery on the corner of Taylor and Halsted streets in the Little Italy neighborhood.
Frida Morales, who lives in the Ukranian Village neighborhood, has been a Ferrara customer for 12 years. She stops in three times a week during her lunch break.
“When I call to place an order they already know my voice,” she said.
Morales continues to return to Ferrara for the food and atmosphere adorned with old black and white photos of the bakery and Italian memorabilia.
“The food is great,” she said. “It’s home cooked, I really like to sit and enjoy the food. Their pizza is my favorite.”
Ferrara married Serafina Pagano. He put her in charge of running the bakery. Meanwhile, Ferrara worked with his brother-in-laws to launch Ferrara Pan Candy Company.
The candy business bloomed. In the 1920s Ferrara relocated his bakery to its current location at 2210 W. Taylor St. to accommodate for increased production.
“This wasn’t supposed to be permanent,” said Bill Davy, who is married to Serafina’s granddaughter, Nella, and co-owns the bakery with her.
“But we’re still temporarily here,” he said.
Today Ferrara Pan manufactures the same candy it did 100 years ago. Its most famous are Lemonheads, Atomic Fireballs and Red Hots.
The candy business recently completed a merger with Minnesota-based Farley’s & Sathers Candy Company. It is expected to do a billion dollars in sales its first year.
Besides serving cookies, cannolis, cream puffs and cakes, Ferrara Bakery has a full menu with Italian staples like lasagna, giambotta and eggplant parmigiana.
“Italian bakeries always have food,” Davey said. “Other bakers go out to lunch.”
During the years the bakery has cut back on making sweets and focused more on serving food.
“People are trying to eat healthier and an Atomic Fireball is 99 percent sugar,” Davey said.
Ferrara Bakery serves more than 150 people during a typical workday lunch rush. Davey said it sells “a couple thousand” cannolis a week.
Although the bakery has remained true to its roots, much of the neighborhood around it has changed since it first opened its doors.
In 1961, Mayor Richard J. Daley proposed that the site of Halsted and Harrison streets be a new college campus. In 1965 the college opened under the name University of Illinois at Chicago Circle. By 1982, surrounding colleges consolidated to form the present-day University of Illinois at Chicago.
“It stopped being Little Italy,” Davey said. “The Italians all moved to the suburbs.”
The establishment of UIC has led Little Italy to become a diverse area. According it UIC’s website, 25 percent of its undergraduate population identifies as Asian Americans, 22 percent as Hispanic or Latino and eight percent as African American.
Neighborhood property owner Jim Prybylo agrees with Davey that times have changed. In 1989, he rehabbed his first building in the neighborhood.
“People thought you were nuts to come into this area,” he said.
Prybylo described the streets surrounding the bakery as being formerly rough. He says the transformation of the area since he first bought real estate is “night and day.”
“It’s safer now,” Prybylo said. “There’s new schools and restaurants and families are starting to live here.”
However, Prybylo stated that the majority of his properties are still rented to college students. He says many of them are from foreign countries.
When Prybylo is not busy working, he stops at Ferrara Bakery for its elephant ear pastry and a cappuccino.
Taylor Street is no longer just for the Italians. There is a sushi restaurant, hookah lounge and all sorts of businesses that represent a multitude of cultures. However, authentic Italian gems still remain. For a real taste of Italy, Davey recommends places such as Tufano’s, Galleria Marchetti, Pompei and of course, Ferrara Bakery.