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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.

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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

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