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Family of Bakers

  • The Founding Father of Di Camillo Bakery
  • Post author
    Michael DiCamillo

The Founding Father of Di Camillo Bakery

The Founding Father of Di Camillo Bakery

Tomaso Di Camillo Circa 1903

 

I never actually met my grandfather.  He died nine years before I was born, but he has loomed large throughout my seventy years. My own father certainly had the highest regard for him, and told endless stories of Tomaso's insistence on elaborate dinner preparations, his enterprise, moral character, trusting nature, and his deep devotion to his family, and his religious faith.

As a child these reminisces of my father's were usually delivered at the dinner table. Sadly, I was only really attentive for more sensational tales. However, my grandfather's importance was not missed-- even by me.  I was always aware that he was the driving force that started the family bakery—an enterprise which quite literally put bread on our table, as well as thousands of others in Niagara Falls. Besides founding the bakery he was a father to seven daughters and five sons, all of whom regarded him in a very benevolent light and the creator our family bakery.

[Di Camillo Family at home 1934]

 

The bakery, or "the shop" is how it was always referred to by my father. "I'm going to the shop,": it has connected us all in a profound way, even family members not involved in the bakery . It was and has remained almost a family member without a body.

 

       [20th Street Bakery circa 1947]

  Family lore has always maintained that Tomaso arrived in Niagara Falls, New York on Thanksgiving Day in 1898. A deeply spiritual man, dates, feast days, and portents had profound meanings to him. So the concept of a meal of Thanksgiving appealed to him and its significance was confirmed by his arrival on this quintessential America holiday. From then on, it was always celebrated by his family as if it was a personal reminder of his arrival.  

 

 Niagara Falls, New York was the end of his journey from the Italian Abruzzo hill-town of Villamagna, and was to be his home for the rest of his life. He arrived in North America a single young man of nineteen at the port of Montreal, Canada in 1897.  Why he landed there, instead of Ellis island, as did my grandmother several years later, I have never heard an explanation of—at least one that could be proven.  One legend has it that Tomaso had an eye-infection and he feared being quarantined (or turned back) at Ellis Island and may have thought Montreal was an easier port of entry.

 

And how exactly he came to the United States, is yet another mystery. It is quite possible he simply walked across the bridge and border from Canada over the Niagara River! It certainly was a very different time, but it does shed some historical reference to the controversy now raging on entry into the US  and all the different ways we all have gotten to this country.         

  My grandfather did have cousins here, so he may in fact have been sponsored by one of them. In any event he became a citizen of this country, as did his wife, a fact that they were both very proud of.  

Edward Dean Adams Power Plant Circa 1895, Designed by the Architectural firm McKim, Mead and White]  

Niagara Falls was a bustling community in the early 1900s as the forces of invention and industry had converged in the persons of George Westinghouse, Nicola Tesla and J.P. Morgan and Edward Dean Adams each made a huge contribution to the creation of hydroelectric production in Niagara Falls-- and the ability to transport electricity with alternating current for great distances.         Big Industry had flocked to Niagara Falls for the inexpensive power. And also for the cheap labor, as the city was teaming with new arrivals from every part of Europe.

 

   

My grandfather's first job was with the iconic Shredded Wheat Company. This
amazingly original American breakfast cereal was invented right here. I have been told that many of the factories in Niagara Falls, at this time, were closed to Italian immigrants but that Shredded Wheat was an “open” employer, and my grandfather was able to rise to the rank of foreman, not only through his work-ethic but his proficiency in English.

 

 

  [Tomaso & Addolorata wedding photo 1902]

However, another mystery arises in his tale with the arrival of my grandmother, Addolorata, in 1903. How well they knew each other before they were married at St. Mary's of the Cataract Church in Niagara Falls is still in some question. Addolorata was from the same town in Italy, and she was eight years his junior, merely seventeen when she arrived, which would have made her a very young girl when he left Italy in 1897. Nevertheless, my aunts and uncles always maintained that they had been childhood sweethearts. Whatever their introduction had been this was a gloriously happy family and biblically (and literally) fruitful.  

 

[Di Camillo family circa 1916]  

My grandparents began a family quickly and kept going until there were seven girls and five boys in their ranks. This Shredded Wheat period of my grandfather's life says so much about this man. Their eldest daughter, Mary, a life-long Salesian nun, reflected in her journal that this time, before the bakery, in the one family bungalow house, were her happiest memoirs.

 

    Tomaso, Addolorata and their Daughter Sister Mary Di Camillo, F.M.A.]  

 

 But these are the memories of 85-year-old nun who left home at sixteen for the convent and was only allowed by her superiors to visit her family home sixteen years after joining the order at a time when Tomaso was gravely ill. I always imagined they were afraid she would not come back as this was a home full of life and joy. In fact, she only visited her home town three more times in her long life, though we often visited her in the convent in her later years. What was going on in my grandfather's head is not known, of course. I think he was also enjoying this life he had made for himself, by whatever means they met, it was a brilliant marriage. It was told to me by mother (not a born Di Camillo) who had become a confidant of Tomaso in his last illness years. He was reported to have said to my grandmother, in my mother's hearing, "God bless you Addolorta! You are stronger than I am!" Of course, he was right, for many reasons, not least of which was that she lived twenty six years longer than he did!

 

[Addolorata in front of 14th Street store]  

An significant turn of events, however, interrupted this idyllic time and changed the course of their life and that of their descendants.  It happened when Tomaso was approached by a group of criminals who “asked” him to not report inventory shortages. This moral challenge was not to be endured, it seems. His quandary: if he crossed the criminals he was marked, but if he cooperated he was a thief. So he did an extraordinary thing-- and quit his job!  This was no easy

decision, as he already had a large family to support and absolutely no one to support him! Of course I don't know this for certain, but I believe he was also chaffing under the yoke! This is a man who had said goodbye to his world at nineteen, crossed an ocean, sleeping well-below deck, and not knowing how he was going to be understood or what was going to happen to him on the other side of the world. This man was obviously a chance-taker.  

 

 [Original Di Camillo store on 14th street, now Tronolone Place, in Niagara Falls, NY]  

 

I think that by this time he had gotten his footing in this new world and he wanted more control of his destiny. He had felt the lash of the proverbial whip, and said “No! Not for me or mine!” His ultimate reason for buying the three storey commercial-residential building on 14th street in Niagara Falls with its cellar ovens, retail store, and two floors of apartments has been repeated by several of his descendants to have been: "I want to make sure my family always has bread."   Well, he did accomplish that and for several generations and it has, in 2020, endured for one hundred years!

Happy Father's Day, Tomaso! And…grazie mille!  

     

  • Post author
    Michael DiCamillo

Comments on this post (22)

  • Aug 22, 2020

    My family emigrated from Italy to Niagara Falls at the turn of the 20th century. My Grandfather moved his family to Albany NY in the late forty’s but returned to the Falls to visit family quite often, and with every trip was a stop at DiCamillos. Now, years later the second Frank Rotella, visits DiCamillos on my monthly work tours to the Buffalo area. A rediscovery of a rich heritage of great food and great people. Thank You.

    — Frank Rotello(a)

  • Aug 22, 2020

    Loved this story Mike! Thanks for having Mary send it to me.
    We are so sad that we had to cancel our yearly visit home to Buffalo and our annual visit to DiCamillo’s to fill our suitcase with peanut sticks, molasses cookies and bread to take back to Arizona!! Don’t work too hard and stay safe and healthy!

    — Barb Miller

  • Jun 23, 2020

    When you reopen the main backery Cafe please include that small local history “books for sale”. A simple request from a local guy who still shops your bakery once a week. Lucky me.

    — Guy

  • Jun 22, 2020

    I love these tales of family & history. Thank you for sharing! Miss you Mike!

    — Marcie Poland

  • Jun 22, 2020

    A really nice history, italian people have to think about stories like thisone ! United States : a country of oppotunity

    — Paolo Piatti

  • Jun 22, 2020

    Thank you for sharing your families wonderful story. I am from Niagara Falls and moved away from the area several years ago. Whenever I am back in town I have to pick up as many loaves as I can fit in my luggage to take back to Florida with me. Your fathers recipe for scaletta bread must have been very unique. I have searched for a recipe to make bread like yours and have been unsuccessful! DiCamillo’s has spoiled me. My Italian tastebuds can not find anything like it anywhere.

    — Mary-Louise Cannello Gondek

  • Jun 20, 2020

    Love your bakery and the wonderful products you offer.
    My maiden name is DiCamillo and thought I would share with you some information about my father and my DiCamillo heritage. My father was born in 1896 in the Abruzzo area of Italy. He arrived in North America at the age of sixteen. He was alone on his journey . He did not come through Ellis Island but rather came through Canada. He had some relatives living in upstate New York, and that is where he settled, married and raised his family.
    My family and I have visited the DiCamillo Bakery in Niagara Falls and often wondered how your family came to settle in the United States. Now we know your story.

    — Marie DiCamillo Arnold

  • Jun 20, 2020

    Absolutely a wonderful tribute to an outstanding man and his family. Imagine that many children to feed, all these babies born at home. Brave people coming to this country, learning the language and starting a business that still exists today
    Great article
    Thank you!

    — Mary Holland

  • Jun 20, 2020

    Thank you so much for your grandfather’s story. My grandparents (Dave and Mary Roulley) lived in Niagara Falls and my mom, Yolanda, was born there. My brother and I grew up on DiCamillo’s bread. When visiting our grandparents, we lived in Johnstown, my mom and grandma would go to DiCamillo’s and load up with bread to “hold us over” at home until we made our next visit to Niagara Falls. Our special dinner would be my mom’s homemade spaghetti sauce ladled over buttered DiCamillo bread.

    When we moved to California, my grandparents continued the tradition and sent us “care packages” of DiCamillo bread.

    Wonderful bread, wonderful baked goods, more importantly, wonderful memories. All thanks to Tomaso. Thank you for continuing a beautiful tradition and creating many wonderful family memories!

    Valerie

    — Valerie Charles

  • Jun 20, 2020

    I grew up on 21st street with the wonderful smell of bread being baked at the DiCamillo bakery not far from where we lived! To this day , now that I live in Rochester, NY , I always stop and grab at least three to four loaves of their wonderful fresh and delicious bread!

    — Carl DiVita

  • Jun 20, 2020

    What a wonderful story, I met some of the DiCamillo’s thru different times in my life. My favorite being Nick. I graduated from NFHS with Jimmy & moved to Florida in 1974. We would spend summers here up until 4 years ago when my husbands health problems made traveling difficult but I never forgot my hometown & my favorite bakery. The bread, the donuts, the pizza, the scones & tea biscuits all my favorites. My favorite memory was when Nick took me on a tour of the bakery where everything was made. DiCamillo memories will never be forgotten & the first place I would go to if I ever get up to the Falls again.

    — Georgine Rosatone Muscoreil Price

  • Jun 20, 2020

    Wonderful heritage. How many of the12 children remain?

    — Vincent Iorio

  • Jun 20, 2020

    What a wonderful Father’s Day tribute to the patriarch of the DiCamillo family. His story is the American story! Successo continuato per altri cento anni!

    — Pat Bobo

  • Jun 20, 2020

    What a lovely writeup, Michael. A great way for some of us to learn more about family history.

    — Robin

  • Jun 20, 2020

    What a lovely writeup, Michael. A great way for some of us to learn more about family history.

    — Robin

  • Jun 20, 2020

    Michael….this was so beautiful….i’ve read it twice already and can’t wait to read it to my grandkids….thank you for sharing…

    chris
    (Silvia’s friend)

    — Christine Zullo

  • Jun 20, 2020

    Congratulations To The DiCamillo Family!

    BRAVO!

    — J. Mannello

  • Jun 20, 2020

    Loved the family history. Happy Father’s Day David, Tommy and Skippy!

    Colette

    — Colette Greene

  • Jun 20, 2020

    We always love DiCamillo Italian bread. My wife and I moved to California in the early 1960s and on our visits back to see our family in NF we always packed a box full of DiCamillo bread, pizza and biscotti to take home with us on the airplane. We continue to order your bread and expect a delivery today for Father’s Day.
    I went to Bishop Duffy, class of 1958 with David DiCamillo. Lots of good memories growing up in NF and you are part of them.
    Your Grandfather’s story is similar to my wife’s grandfather’s travel from Italy to America in the late 1890’s.
    Congratulations DiCamillo Bakery.
    Dan Grimley

    — Dan Grimley

  • Jun 20, 2020

    OUTSTANDING and Very Interesting story!! A Wonderful Testimony to obviously a Very Exceptional Man and His Family. It was a Joy to read. “La Famiglia” is so very important! You must be Very Proud and I thank you for sharing it. Kind Regards and Best Wishes to You and Your Family for Continued Success in the coming years. Sincerely, Janet

    — JANET ANDERSON

  • Jun 20, 2020

    Fantastic and romantic story! I loved going from my grandparents’ house on 19th street and cutting through the alley and houses to get fresh rolls when I was a child. I have shipped your bread all over the US as a gift and everyone loves it. Happy Fathers Day!! My father when he was alive loved when his shipment of bread made it out to LA….we are all blessed with great memories and your family helped create some mine!

    — Greg Alongi

  • Jun 20, 2020

    And grazie mille to you for this DiCamillo family story. I well remember the places in Niagara Falls you mention from my own growing up years, further in the past than even yours. We are all indebted to your grandfather for his great gifts to the city. He must be very proud knowing how the DiCamillo name and talents have been carried on. Indirectly he is putting bread on my table on the Oregon Coast every day and my friends, especially the Italian ones, rave about the quality. I think of my own family, especially my dear Grandmother whenever I have my morning toast. You have given me that gift and I thank you!

    — Valerie McCasland

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