Owner Lisa Oteri (back right) mans the counter at Oteri's Italian Bakery in North Philadelphia. Credit: Charles Mostoller
Sweetness reigns supreme at Oteri’s Italian Bakery, a century-old family business that just keeps on growing.
At their central bakery and flagship store in Olney, the wafting smell of sweet dough fills the baking room and surrounding storage areas, where more than 50 employees work 365 days a year to mix, mold and design cupcakes, muffins, pastries and cakes that are undeniably delicious.
“It’s the recipes we’ve made for years and years and years,” said proprietor Lisa Oteri, 49. “If we do a little bit of change, the customers know right away.”
Weekly, Oteri’s churns out 30 to 40 wedding cakes and 200 to 300 birthday cakes. The thousands of pastries they sell includes newer items like the “lobster tail” alongside their classic cannoli, which has a crusty shell filled with sweet ricotta cheese that isn’t overly sugary as pastries tend to be.
“All this stuff is the best in the city,” said long-time customer Craig Vaughn as he waited on a hoagie, which Oteri’s also serves. “Dunkin Donuts can’t even compare.”
The first Oteri's bakery was founded in Hoboken by great-grandfather Gaetano Oteri in 1904 after he brought the family over from Sicily.
The Oteris eventually relocated their business to South Philadelphia, going on to open their Olney location in 1968.
Now in it's fourth generation, the Oteri's family has expanded their Olney bakery into a 14,000-square-foot facility for all their operations, which includes four bakeries and wholesale operations.
"Business is good. It's doing great," said Oteri, who recently opened the fourth location in Roxborough.
"I listen to my customers," Oteri said.
Oteri started working in the bakery when she was 13. She returned 12 years ago to help her aging father, Thomas. After he passed away in 2006, Lisa stepped into his shoes – literally. She keeps a pair of her father’s sneakers in her office to remind herself to fill his shoes everyday.
The Oteri family warmth extends to their employees, too.
Comparing Oteri’s to other bakeries, employee Bernadette Martinez said, “It’s more family.”
Oteri’s cakes are their trademark – with custom cakes available in any design imaginable, including high heel shoes and boats. To celebrate the recent 47th anniversary of South Philly institution Geno’s Steaks, they created a 1,000-pound cake in the shape of a giant cheesesteak.
That particular creation is documented in an upcoming episode of TLC’s “Bakery Boss," in which host Buddy Valaro spent time at Oteri’s. The Oteri's episode will air at 9 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 16.
Summing up Valaro’s visit with the team, Oteri said, “By the time he left, he was one of us.”
Four ways to get your Oteri's
-Olney (flagship) – 4919 N. 5th Street, Philadelphia, Pa
-Roxborough – 499 Domino Lane, Philadelphia, PA
-Northeast Philly – 4023 Fairdale Road, Philadelphia, PA
-Mount Moriah, Southwest Philly – 6323 Woodland Avenue, Philadelphia, PA