The Sweet Spot: Celebrating a Century of Baked Goods from Alessi’s

July 31, 2014 | South Tampa Magazine | Categories: Editorial, Food | Tags: Alessi's Bakery, Nichola Alessi, Willie Lemon

The smell of freshly baked bread and homemade butter cream icing floats through the air at Alessi’s Bakery on Cypress Street. Pressed Cuban sandwiches and giant cupcakes compete for the lunch crowd’s attention, both usually securing a spot in to-go bag.

It’s hard to stay committed to a diet once you enter the oldest bakery in town. Since 1912, the Alessi family has been creating and recreating old favorites and never-before-tasted confections.

Nichola Alessi opened the original shop nearly 100 years ago on Cherry Street, delivering fresh Cuban and Italian bread by horse and wagon. After moving back to Italy for a few years and operating a small bakery near the Vatican, Nichola and his family reopened Alessi’s Bakery in Howard Avenue—this time offering much more than freshly baked bread.

Since then, three generations of Alessis have added to the ever-changing menu of baked goods and lunch staples, and in the early 1960s, they made one last move to the iconic building on Cypress Street.

A lot has changed since then, but much has stayed the same. We tracked down one of the people who prove why Alessi’s Bakery is so special: Willie Lemon. He’s been there for 50 years.

Baker’s Dozen
Alessi’s By The Numbers

    Alessi’s sells approximately 300 Cuban sandwiches a day
    There are roughly 20 different kinds of jumbo cupcakes available
    Anywhere from 200 to 400 deviled crabs are sold each day
    Approximately 65 people work at the bakery on Cypress Street
    Alessi’s sells between 150 and 200 cakes a day
    There are about 1,000 different kinds of cakes and pastries
    25 different types of traditional Italian cookies are baked at Alessi’s
    Alessi’s has a 100,000 SQ FT plant in (north?) Tampa, where signature desserts are made for places like Publix
Ask the Pastry Chef
A Q&A with 50-year Alessi’s Employee, Willie Lemon

Willie is all smiles in his apron and hat. “I’m only 29 but I’ve been here for 50 years,” he jokes. This good-natured spirit and sense of humor has kept the baker at the same job for half a century. He tells us why.

STM: What cooking utensil do you use the most?
Willie: A rolling pin

STM: What do you bake the most here at Alessi’s?
Willie: A lot of Danish, a lot of cinnamon sticks, meat pies…I do a lot of stuff. Oh, can’t forget the guava turnovers.

STM: How many pastries do you usually make in one day?
Willie: Between three to four thousand in a day—a slow day.

STM: Do you bake when you’re at home?
Willie: Last night I made two lemon pies—I bake whatever the kids want. (He has three boys and two girls)

STM: If you weren’t baking, what would you be doing?
Willie: I’d probably be an attorney or something.

STM: Plans on retiring?
Willie: No. I will never retire. I’m an active person and like to stay busy.

STM: Why have you stayed with Alessi’s for so long?
Willie: The way they treat me… they’re real nice people to work with and respect me. You can’t ask for any better than that. Plus, I like my job.

STM: If you had to guess, how many pounds of butter and sugar do you think you go through in a week?
Willie: Oh wow, I would guess about 500 pounds of butter a week and about (he asks a few others in the kitchen) five to ten pounds of sugar.

STM: How do you stay so skinny?
Willie: Staying active. And I don’t eat the sweets. You get immune to it and don’t crave sweets anymore. When I first started working here they told me to eat everything I wanted. After two weeks I got so tired of eating it and was done.

STM: How has Alessi’s changed over the past 50 years?
Willie: More business, the quality of pastries keeps getting better… I saw it grow from small to medium to large—it’s grown a lot.