THUNDER BAY – FEATURED – I would like to talk to you about our family-owned Donato’s Bakery, which finds its origins in 20th century Italy and has long honoured its matriarchal roots. Spearheaded by Caterina Primerano di la Marinara, the family was known in the old country as the “Marinara Clan”, a moniker reflecting a southern Italian tradition and medieval peasantry order denoting a level of respect akin to that granted aristocracies. Our Great Grandmother Caterina was born in 1903 in the mountainous region of southern Italy, and she began baking at a mere seven years of age, using a simple recipe of flour, yeast, salt and water – just like the one used by ancient Romans. Adopted from her mother, it was made by hand and involved hours of laborious kneading, setting and shaping in precise steps and sequence. The ingredients might have been simple but to get it right a certain skill was required. This is the artisan way. Today the family celebrates over a century of baking and have been operating in Thunder Bay, Ontario for over 25 years.
Our family takes great pride in our heritage and the women who kept it alive through each generation. Caterina was the first to bake and make food items commercially but her skill was so impressive at the time that her husband-to-be built her a wood oven for her as a wedding present. Since in those days a wood fired oven lacked thermometers, the only way to keep it consistent was to keep the door closed. Fortunately, Caterina’s mother came up with the idea of lining the door seam with dough. When it turned golden brown, her bread was done. It is this kind of ingenuity that has prevailed from one generation to the next as each female head of the family passed down recipes and best practices. It was Caterina’s eldest daughter (Rosaria) who moved to Canada to begin a new chapter in our family’s legacy.
Today it is her granddaughter, Caterina Donato Bruno, who stands as the head of the family-run business and is a force of nature herself. Long considered a pillar in the Thunder Bay community, she has earned the bakery a strong reputation for philanthropy and humanitarianism. She has been celebrated twice – in 1994 by Mayor Jack Masters with a Giant Heart Award, and again in 2015 by Mayor Keith Hobbs with a congratulatory scroll. She volunteers and fundraises for her church, the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Diabetes Society, while contributing to the local food bank and soup kitchen. And she has volunteered at a hospice center. But her generosity is also on display at the bakery, where no one gets turned away if they cannot pay for their food. If a child comes in crying they will find themselves with a rainbow-coloured cookie for free!
Caterina is supported by her sister and three sons in running our beloved, 5th-generation business. Rosina, James, Donny and David are buoyant, welcoming and love what we do. The atmosphere in the bakery is festive, like a theatre production or a Greek tragedy. Patrons laugh, cry, shout or emote freely and much of the baking can be observed from the counter as customers try to decide what they want. Most people have an emotional attachment to food and Donato’s Bakery embraces that. And in keeping with Italian custom, pastries, dough, bread and sauce are made by hand, the artisan way, with no preservatives. The bread is baked on stones much like those found in the original wood ovens. The pizza is homemade with Marinara sauce made fresh daily, the same recipe Caterina used over 100 years ago.
The Bruno family was featured in a WallEye article in 2014 to commemorate our century-old family traditions. In Italy, family really means something so their motto is “All our customers become a member of Donato’s Bakery’s family.” We welcome the full rainbow of people in Thunder Bay: Indigenous, Croatian, Polish, Ukrainian, Finnish, English, French, Scottish, German and more recently Syrian, and have become a fixture in the community. And myself, the youngest son (David), have made a point of visiting Italy as often as possible to bring back ingredients unavailable in Canada. In Calabria, with my late Father Nino, along with our cousins, would go up into the mountains to find black anise seeds, a necessary ritual that can take days as they have to be hand picked. The seeds are used for making Taralli, a specialty treat and breadstick, and they are quite tasty.
This November, Donato’s is proud to showcase its traditional Marinara Tomato Sauce and are proud to share with patrons of The Royal Preserves Trade Show in Toronto, the very same time honoured traditions that have been enjoyed in our family for over 100 years and 5 generations.
Taste for yourself our Great Grandmother’s very own time-tested, 5-hour slow cooked, no-preservative Marinara tomato sauce which can be enjoyed either on pasta, home made pizza’s and/or as a dipping sauce all on its own.