Sal has the names of each of his children tattooed with pride on his arm. Maria, his ex-wife, is tattooed there too. Not only is she still present on his arm, but also in the front end of Sal’s Pastry Shoppe. Maria greets each customer with love and pride, as if each one is as precious as her offspring who are laboring in the back with their father. “Cannoli, tiramasu, struffoli? What would you like, honey? They are all delizioso; Sal and my sons make them.”
Sal, direct from Italy, has been baking for 40 of his 52 years. “Not no one knows how to make the bread or the pastries like Sal does.” This is not arrogance, it’s pride; it’s true; don’t mess with the maestro. Just as the famous Italian violinist Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) became one with his violin, Sal, of the same romantic origin, becomes one with his bread. “You must understand the dough; observe it; listen to it; feel it.” The message is clear. A recipe is meaningless without engaging all of yourself, all of your senses, and the sixth sense of intuition into the dough.
The back of the bakery is the training ground for Sal and Maria’s sons, Salvatore, Jr. and Dominic. Sal, Jr., the eldest, has taken on his father’s love of baking. In fact, Sal's Pastry Shoppe is owned by Sal, Jr. An impressive endeavor for a 20-something.
Better than any cake boss, he is the “Prince of Specialty Cakes”. The first time I met him, he honored me with a picture album of the works of art he creates for all occasions: playgrounds, sports fields, crosses, dradles, baby carriages, wedding cakes, all edible, all individual, all made with the precision of a mathematician. Uncle Frank beams, “the kid is a math whiz, you know.” Sal, Jr.’s math acumen is evident by the symmetry and artistry of his creations.
As we continue to knead the test batch of spelt bread, Dominic, the youngest says to me “Maine? That’s where you are from? I love Stephen King.” “Stephen King?” I inquire, “You must love to read, and love horror too?” “Yes, I am a writer.” Dominic’s revelation brings a smile to my face; it explains the drawing of caricatures in the office. Sal, Jr. drew a likeness of Dominic with the phrase “I AM A WRITER”. Dominic drew a picture of Sal, Jr. “I AM A BAKER.”
Dominic has written a few screenplays; some horror in the tradition of Stephen King; some comedy in the tradition of life. He studied at the New York Film Academy. “It’s hard to be recognized in that business.” Dominic said. “Yes, Dominic,” I replied, “It’s hard to be recognized in any business.” But, Dominic, Sal Jr., Uncle Frank and I all have something to learn from Sal, Sr., we just need to keep working at it – using all of our senses – becoming one with what we do.
Sal’s Pastry Shoppe, a beautifully complex tiny world, spins with family, love, passion, tradition, and hard work. Whether creating tiramasu, spelt bread, 12 layer cakes, or screenplays, a few things remain true, we must persevere, hold on to our dreams, hope for a little luck, and being thankful for those who spin into our tiny worlds to help us keep our passions alive.