A Taste of The Old Country

The Marchiano family’s baking legacy continues to thrive in Manayunk.
By Leo Dillinger • Photography by JPG Photography (jpgphotography.com)

Daneen Marchiano is no stranger to Manayunk. Over the last four decades, her family has provided residents and visitors to the neighborhood with authentic Italian specialty breads and tomato pie.

In the mid-1970s, Daneen’s grandmother, Nunziata, started baking breads in the basement of her row home on Umbria Street with the help of her son, Frank, and his wife, Kathy. Using the recipes from her hometown of Acri, a small village in Southern Italy, the Marchianos sold their breads as a way to make ends meet.

“They basically bootlegged it out of the house,” Daneen said. “They sold it to local bars and people would pull up, knock on the door, and ask to buy whatever was in stock. Eventually, they made enough money and a neighbor gave them a small loan so they could buy this building.”

By 1984, Marchiano’s Bakery officially opened at their current location (right across the street from Nunziata’s house). The family started with a more “deli-style” business model that offered everything from hoagies and lunchmeat to candy and soda. As the demand for their specialty breads and tomato pie grew, Daneen’s parents returned to only selling their most popular products and moved tenants out of other parts of the building in order to make room for their day-to-day operations.

Frank and Kathy’s three children (Christina, Daneen, and Frank Jr.) have always been involved with the bakery since they were young. Daneen recalls sleeping on bags of flour in the back room with her sister while their parents worked and walking down the hill to the bakery every day after school. As soon as they were old enough, Frank put them to work folding boxes, sweeping, and eventually holding down the front counter taking orders. By 2003, Daneen took over the bakery as her father scaled back from the business.

“When we were little, it was just a part of our fabric,” Daneen said. “I hated the family business when I was young, and that’s not something I’m embarrassed to say because it took my dad away from me a lot. He was always working so hard. But as I grew older, I realized more and more that he was doing that so he could provide a better life for us.”
Today, “Marchiano’s” is a household name throughout the area. You’ll find lines out the door the morning of every Eagles game and Super Bowl Sunday. Some customers will stock up right before trips down to the shore or up to the mountains. Christmas Eve at Marchiano’s has even become a tradition among many families. Some will either hire babysitters for the night while others bring multiple generations into the bakery for music, drinks, and samples as they wait to pick up their orders.

Over the years, Marchiano’s has also seen its fair share of celebrity clientele. Before the bakery opened, local radio persona Jerry Blavat would bring guests like The Temptations, The Four Tops, and Frank Sinatra to Nunziata’s home to pick up specialty breads on the way to the station. Daneen’s parents would travel to Giordano’s at the Italian market in South Philly to pick up “Long Hots” exclusively for Sinatra’s order. Behind the bakery’s counter, you’ll see the “Wall of Fame.” Big 5 coaches like Speedy Morris and John Cheney to local news anchors and radio hosts and virtually every Philadelphia mayor that’s held office since they opened has stepped foot inside Marchiano’s. Even former Philadelphia 76er Marc Jackson used to wash dishes for the bakery while attending Roman Catholic High School.

“Our food is made with heart,” Daneen said. “It sounds a little crazy, but the people who work for us are really like family friends who’ve been around for a long time. They’re appreciative of the customers coming in because they wouldn’t be able to work without them. From their perspective, I think it’s also respect for my father that keeps them going.”

Many customers refer to Marchiano’s specialty breads as “calzones” or a “stromboli,” but it surprisingly lies in a category all to its own. The uniquely mixed dough, filled with a blend of cheeses and Italian herbs, comes in 13 varieties including pepperoni, cheesesteak, Buffalo chicken, and spinach, just to name a few. They’ve grown so popular that Daneen’s family opened a wholesale facility right around the corner on Krams Avenue in 2013 to supply local delicatessens, lunch orders, and fundraisers. While their tomato pie and oreganata remain delicious as always, the specialty breads reign supreme.

“Our specialty breads are the bulk of our business,” Daneen said. “I hear the craziest stories. People take them to the beach. They’ll throw them on the grill at tailgates. I’ve heard drunken stories of people pressing the foil with an iron in hotel rooms. It’s neat to hear all the crazy things they do with our breads.”

Being in the neighborhood for multiple generations, the Marchiano family has always put an emphasis on the community. Though Frank is semi-retired splitting his time between Manayunk and Ocean City, NJ, Daneen said her father makes sure the bakery always donates whatever they can to local fundraisers for schools, sports teams, and neighbors who are sick or injured. Longtime residents continue to place the same orders as they have for the last 30 years, while college students who move away return years later with newly formed families to pass the tradition on to their kids. For Daneen, the success of her family’s business wouldn’t be possible without the support of a tight-knit community that her family calls home.

“The building is here and will always be here as long as I have anything to do with it,” Daneen said. “My parents literally built this bakery with their two hands and the help of some people in the neighborhood. We’ve become more efficient as my sister and I took on a more active role, but what has remained the same is our commitment to the quality of our product, customer service, and our community.”