Rising Like Yeast

Lisa Oteri has her hands full with de­lect­able pastries from Oteri’s Bakery. A new shop in Mill­brook is en­joy­ing sol­id busi­ness. JENNY SWI­GODA / TIMES PHOTO

For Oteri’s Bakery, a fam­ily busi­ness with a his­tory that goes back dec­ades, a re­cent ex­pan­sion in­to North­east Philly has been icing on the cake.

When pat­rons stop at her fam­ily’s bakery in Ol­ney for their fa­vor­ite cakes and Itali­an pastries, Lisa Oteri al­ways asks them how far they traveled, and many tell her they come from the North­east.

With that kind of re­sponse, it’s easy to un­der­stand why put­ting a shop here seemed a pretty good idea. But it wasn’t just that over-the-counter mar­ket re­search that led to the Oct. 19 open­ing of Oteri’s Bakery on Fairdale Road in Mill­brook; things kind of fell in­to place be­cause one of her sis­ters was hav­ing her kit­chen re­modeled.

Her sis­ter asked for some can­noli to give to her con­tract­or, Mario San­tilli, the same guy who was work­ing on adding three stores to what used to be called the Ro­bindale Shop­ping Cen­ter at Fairdale and Knights roads. He sold Oteri on ex­pand­ing her bakery’s busi­ness to the North­east, she said last week.

That North­east busi­ness has “ex­ceeded ex­pect­a­tions” since the open­ing, Oteri said. It’s been so good that, on the first day, she had to ar­range four trips back and forth to the ori­gin­al Oteri’s on the 4900 block of N. Fifth St. to keep the Mill­brook store stocked with but­ter cake, cin­na­mon buns, crumb cake, Dan­ish and Itali­an spe­cial­ties like rum cake, can­noli, Sfo­geteli (pro­nounced SCHWAY dell) and the Bav­ari­an cream-filled “lob­ster claws.”

“People have been great,” Oteri said.

 The good show­ing might have been pre­dicted al­most a year ago. Some neigh­bors at­tend­ing a fall 2010 meet­ing of the Mill­brook Civic As­so­ci­ation ac­tu­ally ap­plauded when it was an­nounced a bakery would be among the new stores San­tilli wanted to add to the shop­ping cen­ter. 

His plan to build three stores in the shop­ping cen­ter changed over the last year. Now, there will be only two busi­nesses — Oteri’s and a coin-op­er­ated laun­dry, which hasn’t opened yet.

The Mill­brook bakery shop, which is man­aged by Oteri’s (full name Lisa Oteri Col­li­er) sis­ter, Debbie Burke, is open 365 days a year. 

Al­though new to Mill­brook, Oteri’s is hardly a new busi­ness. It has been a dur­able staple of Ol­ney for about 50 years, and there’s an­oth­er fam­ily bakery in South­w­est Philly. The his­tory of it all star­ted with Oteri’s grand­par­ents, An­thony and Florence, in 1904.  

Un­der the guid­ance of Lisa Oteri’s fath­er, Tom, the bakery has grown in­to a thriv­ing re­tail and whole­sale busi­ness that em­ploys more than 60 people. The stores in Mill­brook and South­w­est Philly rep­res­ent an ex­pan­sion. The fam­ily busi­ness had op­er­ated shops in Cen­ter City, Ju­ni­ata Park and South Phil­adelphia be­fore scal­ing down to the Fifth Street loc­a­tion for a while.

How big did the bakery’s sales get just in Ol­ney?

“On a Sat­urday on Fifth Street, we sell two-hun­dred to three-hun­dred birth­day cakes,” said Oteri, who has man­aged the busi­ness since the death of her fath­er in 2005.

There is a de­mand, too, for cus­tom-made cakes, she said. With TV shows like Ace of Cakes and Cake Boss giv­ing them ideas, pat­rons are com­ing in with re­quests for some pretty out­rageous shapes.

“They want what they see on TV,” Oteri said.

Some­times, however, cus­tom­ers want cakes with X-rated shapes that they’d nev­er see on tele­vi­sion.

They also want some en­ter­tain­ing things writ­ten on their or­ders, too, Oteri said.

“I had a cus­tom­er over the week­end who asked me to write ‘It’s your fault’ on her cake,” Oteri said. “I re­peated it to her and she replied, ‘Yes, I’m telling my hus­band I’m preg­nant.’”

All of the baked goods sold in Oteri’s Mill­brook shop at 4023 Fairdale Road are “im­por­ted from Ol­ney,” she said, be­cause all bak­ing is done at the Fifth Street store.

Oteri, who grew up in Ox­ford Circle, said she began work­ing there for her fath­er when she was a teen­ager, and she still does.

“I work every day for him,” she said. ••

Re­port­er John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or jloftus@bsmphilly.com

Let them eat cake …

Oteri’s Bakery, 4023 Fairdale Road, is open Monday through Sat­urday, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and on Sundays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Call 215-637-1330 or vis­it www.oteris­bakery.com. E-mail or­ders to oteris­bakery@gmail.com

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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