There are no brothers now at Scialo Bros. Bakery. The business that’s held a place on Atwells Avenue on Federal Hill in Providence since 1916 has been owned and operated since 1993 by sisters Carol Scialo Gaeta and Lois Scialo Ellis, who grew up living above the shop when their father ran the bakery.
“I was out in the front working the register when I was 9 years old,” said Ellis.
But the sisters never intended to go into the bakery business.
“We went to college. We had other careers,” said Gaeta, who worked for several years as a medical secretary. Ellis worked as a teacher for 34 years and taught history at East Greenwich High School.
“When we were raised, women were teachers, nurses or secretaries,” Ellis said.
Their career plans changed when their father died in 1993 at 103. He was ill for only a short time before his death, and had been involved in running the business from home. He left the business to his three daughters. One lives in Florida and wasn’t interested. So Gaeta and Ellis bought her out.
That’s when the work began. They had to do major upgrades, but “it was very difficult for women to get a business loan in 1993,” said Ellis, who is the business manager, among other things, for the bakery. “We went to several places. We finally got a loan from Bank Rhode Island.”
The sisters have remained devoted to the traditional “no shortcuts” baking that’s the signature of the bakery. Fillings made from fresh cream. Specialty pastries such as sfogliatelle, with the dough carefully cut, the seminola cream specially made in a process that takes many steps and many hours. Bread made only with flour, water, yeast and salt – no preservatives.
Tradition is complemented by the advantages of online marketing. Mail orders are part of the business and a steady stream of one-hour tours is booked as well, often during the week, and even more frequently on Saturdays.
On a Saturday morning in April, the first tour group of 30 visitors from Wallingford, Conn., arrives in a big tour bus. The group’s day trip to Providence was arranged by a recreation center.
Gaeta boards the bus and gives a few minutes of bakery history. The visitors learn the bakery was in the process of being sold after her father died, but the sale fell through and the sisters stepped up to take over.
As the visitors file off the bus, they join other sidewalk viewers “oohing” and “ahhing” at the bakery window. One showstopper is a many-layered cake, every inch decorated with white roses. There are cakes in the shape of ladies handbags and hats with flowers.
There’s glistening apple strudel, butter rum cake, cappuccino walnut cake and amaretti cookies.
Visitors get a look into the foundation of the bakery, when one of the huge brick ovens, 14-by-14-feet is fired up.
As the visitors leave with boxes and bags of bakery goods, another group, a walking tour of Federal Hill, files in. It’s a two-tour Saturday for the sisters, who have come full circle from their youth living above the shop and would have it no other way. •
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