After nearly 100 years in business, selling spectacular, vividly decorated cakes for weddings and office parties, the beloved Remo Borracchini’s Bakery & Mediterranean Market on Rainier Avenue South announced Saturday it was closed for good.
The pandemic has taken down another business and news of this closure strikes many Seattleites particularly hard. The old core of this town just keeps disappearing.
The bakery is a classic immigrant-made-good story, started in 1923 in the basement of a South End home by Mario Borracchini, a baker who arrived here from Tuscany. It became the go-to place for bread just out of the oven, for takeout spaghetti, for pastries that you couldn’t help but get a few.
“ … we are in the party business. The problem with that is no one has been gathering over the past year to have those parties. Needless to say, it was devastating to our business,” said the family on the bakery’s Facebook page.
Remo Borracchini, 90, told in an Aug. 22, 1993, Seattle Times story, of being born eight blocks from the bakery.
Business then was good.
“We do up to 150 birthday cakes a day. And around 110 wedding cakes every weekend. Last Saturday we did 125 wedding cakes and I figured it out that on that day 13,780 people were eating our wedding cakes in Seattle,” he told Times restaurant critic John Hinterberger.
He boasted in that interview of the more than 50 types of bread in the bakery, and the family’s refusal to accumulate debt.
“Italians don’t believe in debt,” Borracchini said. “We’ve never had a debt in this building in 85 years.”
The business in recent years has been run by his three daughters, Lisa Desimone, Mimi Norris and Nannette Heye.
On Friday, Heye said they were still undecided about their options. “We have the best customers in the world.”
On Saturday, the closure was announced on the bakery’s Facebook page.
Within five hours of that posting, over 1,000 comments had been posted by people with fond memories.
Frank Coluccio, of Burien, was one of those posting:
“Growing up on Beacon Hill and being Italian, Borracchini’s was a staple in our house. Birthdays, First Communions, Baptisms … any celebration involving cakes Borracchini’s was the place to go.
“But it just wasn’t cakes, it was going down there to get products from Italy. It was watching my dad talk Italian to the people there.
“Borracchini’s, you will be missed, but not only for your baked goods, but for the cultural center point you provided.”
When contacted, Coluccio says he understood how the business was hit hard.
“I belong to Sons of Italy, and we used to have monthly meetings. We’d go there and get Italian rolls, and more often than not, sheet cake for dessert, cookies for coffee,” he says.
But those get-togethers stopped during the pandemic and Coluccio now joins other locals who reminisce about the fast-disappearing Seattle of old.
According to the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, the 1910 census showed that about 45% of Italian-descent Seattleites lived in south downtown and north Rainier Valley, an area that became known as “Garlic Gulch.” The early Italian immigrants moved here to work in the coal mines in Renton, Newcastle and Black Diamond. They began operating farms and worked construction.
“I don’t think there’s any Italian businesses left,” Coluccio says about Rainier Valley.
On Sunday, the original Oh Boy! Oberto headquarters at 1715 Rainier Ave. S., just half a mile north of Borracchini’s, will shut down.
It traces its roots to 1918. Constantino Oberto, an Italian immigrant, sold handmade Italian sausage and other meats to small delis and grocery stores.
The family business was sold in 2018 to a Canadian conglomerate, Premium Brand Holdings, with local management saying few changes would be made.
In 2019, the Rainier Avenue building was sold to the Hamlin Robinson School for students with dyslexia and other language-based learning differences. The school is planning a four-story building on the site.
Oberto says its Renton store remains open.
In 1939, Mario Borracchini’s sons Remo, Angelo and Dino moved the business from the house on 20th Avenue South to its current location at 2307 Rainier Ave. S., newly constructed and described as a “Spanish Revival” building with red clay roof tiles and arched windows.
The brothers were proud of the bakery. Its oven could bake 576 loaves and the mixer could handle 700 pounds of dough at a time, they told The Seattle Times in 1962.
Remo said then, “We were in the wholesale business for so long, that we know how to do things economically. We have family-size packages or cookies and we also have family-size specials on loaves of bread.”
Remo Borracchini is the only brother still alive.
The three Borracchini daughters did not respond to messages left for them on Saturday.
Traci LeCount, manager at the bakery, worked there for 28 years. She began as a counter clerk when she was a junior at Franklin High and over the years learned more and more about the business.
She said Saturday that Remo Borracchini showed her how to bake cakes, write on a cake with frosting, make flowers on a cake, even spaghetti.
“We closed the Saturday before Thanksgiving. They told us not to go back to work. It’s closing down for good,” said LeCount.
That would have been Nov. 21. LeCount now is on unemployment. She says that before the pandemic, the bakery had some 40 employees.
She says the bakery closed in March 2020 because of the pandemic, then opened at the end of June.
“We had masks, hand sanitizer, plastic barriers set up, ” said LeCount. “But people simply weren’t coming. Nobody buying a full sheet cake. Nobody buying wedding cakes. Nobody having office parties. People who had been going to work not stopping in the morning to buy doughnuts. Kids not going to school. Customers complaining that we didn’t have a lot of regular products in the grocery store. We were getting that stuff from Italy, and Italy was shut down.”
She misses the place. Good pay, a nice 401(k), medical, dental, says LeCount.
And the customers.
There was the group of older Ethiopian men who gathered every morning for coffee.
There were the customers she knew by name, “watched when they had babies, and the babies had grown up. I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye.”
The goodbyes are now on social media.
They remembered a bakery that wasn’t hoity toity, where the price was right for those on a budget.
Laura Armes, of Seattle: “When my husband and I were first dating in 2002, neither of us had much money. We’d come in to get $2 grilled sandwiches, a bag of chips to share, and a couple of cookies. It was a cheap lunch to take to the park!”
They remembered their weddings.
“This is heartbreaking! Remo sat down with my husband and I when we were there to pick out our wedding cake. We talked about cake and marriage. At the wedding, everyone raved about how this was the best cake they had ever had. ♡ and it truly was.”
They remembered the childhoods.
Keri DeTore, Seattle: “I grew up in Holly Park, and when my mom could afford it, a special visit was made to Borracchini’s for a treat or a birthday cake. I can still taste the frosting — light as air; I always asked for the pile of flowers in the corner. I think you served me my first eclair. I can’t picture Rainier Avenue without you.”
Not much else to say, is there?