Since his infancy, the strong and sweet smell of freshly baked pastries has invaded the apartment Sergio Flores and his family rented above Dianda’s Bakery on Mission Street. His father worked as a baker and as a little boy, Sergio would come down the stairs to be close to his father and spend time with the bakers.
Flores is now 26 but the sweet smell of his childhood remains in his life. The Italian Dianda family, who opened the bakery in 1962, sold it six years ago to his father and two other bakers. Today, the three co-owners still wake up as early as 2 a.m. to bake. Flores remains near his father, working behind the counter.
“I like working here because you see people grow older,” the young Flores said, referring to the customers whose loyalty to the bakery has passed from generation to generation.
“My mom has been coming here for 40 years,” said Margaret de la Cruz, who remembers her mom buying cakes from Dianda’s when she was a little girl growing up in the Mission. Now, de la Cruz, 38, has two little girls of her own and returns to her childhood neighborhood only for the bakery.
When Floyd Goldberg, Sergio Flores and Luis Peña bought the business in 2004, they kept the same employees, the same routines and the same Italian recipes. But they did add a few things.
“We had to add the Torta de tres leches,” said Goldberg, referring to the light, spongy cake popular among Latin Americans. They also added pecan torts and brownies.
“This is my famous New York Brownie with walnuts,” said Goldberg, a Brooklyn native. When asked why it is famous, he said, “I use quality products, fresh walnuts and I do the mix from scratch.”
Mina Urrutia, a senior who preferred to keep her age a secret, came all the way from her home in Daly City to buy a pannetone. Dianda’s has the traditional Italian Christmas cake throughout the year.
“This is my favorite place to buy pastries. I always come here to get something,” said Urrutia, who lived in the Mission 50 years ago.
Dianda’s tradition is kept by the co-owners, but just in case, Pascuale Dianda, one of the previous owners, still bakes on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 5 a.m.
The 66-year-old started baking when his father Elio bought the bakery 47 years ago. In those days, he said, the Mission was filled with Irish, Italians and Germans. He was only 18, but became his father’s trusted right-hand man because unlike his father, he spoke English.
His father left the family’s hometown of Lucca in Tuscany after World War II and brought his skills as a pastry chef to America. He bought a bakery that had existed since 1906 – a time when trains still ran through the Mission.
“We worked 70, 80, 90 hours a week,” Dianda said, recalling the work it took to succeed.
When the Dianda brothers where ready to sell in 2004, they made it possible for their employees to buy the business.
“Our tradition will be kept with these guys,” said Dianda.
Nowadays, the bakery still has the inscription “Elio Dianda & Sons” at the entrance. The walls still have some black and white pictures of Enrichetta and Elio Dianda, the founders who passed away in the 1970s and 1980s.
In one photograph, the brothers Armando, Floreano and Pascuale look young, wearing their white aprons and working with the dough.
“I still get a lot of phone calls at home for orders,” said Dianda, who lives in Redwood City. He tells them to call the bakery instead but enjoys being involved.
When the bakery was sold, he agreed to consult and help with administration and accounting for a year. That was nearly six years ago. “They don’t want me to go away,” Dianda said.
“He is number one,” agreed Leean Tuscanelli, pointing at Dianda.
Tuscanelli is the manager and an employee who has been working at the bakery for 30 years. There are other longtime employees who work behind the counter. Mirella Mora has worked for 16 years at the bakery and Maria Gomez for 18 years.
“We knew them when they were not the owners and we got along pretty well,” she said referring to the new co-owners.
“We are a union shop,” said Dianda. The bakery has two unions, one for the bakers and one for the clerks. “That has been my philosophy behind the business, to treat employees well.”
“The owners are always motivating us and they are understanding that we have families,” said Martin Gallegos, who has been making deliveries for the bakery for four years. He thinks the pastries are delicious and sees a future in his job.
Dianda’s Bakery, he said, has yet to experience any layoffs and it’s unlikely that there will be any with the holiday season just starting.
“You can see a line of people trying to get in during holidays,” said co-owner Goldberg.
“During Christmas the line goes all the way to the corner,” Tuscanelli added.