slice of life

Family-owned Brighton Bakery expands over the years, serves up delicious treats

CORRECTION: Nov. 15 at 12:19 p.m.

Mark Stefanski doesn’t eat sweets anymore. Occasionally, he will sneak a plain glazed donut or frycake fresh out of the oven, but nothing else. He lost his sweet tooth after working at the family bakery his whole life.

Stefanski’s grandfather, Anthony Lanni opened Brighton Bakery in a historically Italian neighborhood in 1928. After Lanni died, Stefanski’s mother and three sisters took up the business in 1964. His parents kept the bakery open 24 hours a day, alternating between 12-14 hour shifts.

“When my mother and her sisters owned the bakery, people used to stand in line outside on Saturday or Sunday afternoons,” Stefanski said. “And it wasn’t even the only bakery in the area.”

Brighton Bakery and Brighton Liquors recently made the move about a quarter-mile from 355 E. Brighton Ave. to 466 E. Brighton Ave. after selling the original location to housing developers who plan to fill the lot with a new student apartment complex.

But the original ovens wouldn’t survive the transition. Made up of 50,000 bricks, these ovens dated back 100 years. Stefanski hopes his new buildings and machinery, including brand new convection ovens, will keep the pastries tasting exactly the same as they always have.

“We’re just experimenting now,” Stefanski said. “It hasn’t been that different. Little by little we’ll see what happens with the rest of the new equipment.”

When he was a child, Stefanski’s mother rang his home phone often times at various hours of the day. Calling from the bakery next door, she would tell him someone didn’t show up for work that day, so he had to fill in. Stefanski would bake all night and deliver truckloads of treats to local grocery stores or restaurants in the morning.

Throughout high school and his first years as a pre-med student at Syracuse University, Stefanski continued to help his parents out at their business. But his father was diagnosed with throat cancer and died at the age of 60. His father’s illness prompted Stefanski to drop out of college and return to the bakery.

“Seeing my father in the hospital I didn’t think I could do that all the time. It wasn’t for me,” Stefanski said. “After I was working in the bakery my mother pushed me to go back to school, but I didn’t want to go back.”

Brighton Bakery closed briefly in the late 1980s, but in 1993, Stefanski bought the business from his mother and her sisters, and reopened the 355 E. Brighton Ave. location.

“It meant a lot to my mother and sisters because they had it for so long,” Stefanski said. “I took it over because it was good to keep it in business.”

In 2001, Stefanski opened a liquor store in the back garage of the bakery. The contrasting rush hours of the bakery and the liquor store made it an ideal way to bring in extra profits.

Cannolis, half-moon cookies, headlight donuts, pies, cakes and Brighton Bakery’s famous chocolate chip cookies fill glass cases in the front of the store, while loaves of Italian bread sit freshly baked on top.

Local restaurants sometimes request Brighton Bakery to deliver items for sale on their menus. The most well-known, the now-closed Cosmo’s, had the bakery deliver honeybuns for sale every day. Stefanski has also been baking Varsity Pizza’s dough for the last 15 years, as well as supplying to both Funk n’ Waffles locations.

Like many other Italian restaurants and bakeries, Stefanski’s business is rooted in its tradition. His team includes only himself and two older bakers who have worked at the bakery for almost two decades.

Sallie Cuyler, Stefanski’s girlfriend and an accounting clerk for the Moynihan Institute of Global Affairs in the Maxwell School, sometimes helps out at the bakery and sees its history every day when customers come to the store. Generations of Syracuse families bring in their younger children in to pick out their favorite treat, just as their parents did for them.

“There are people who have worked for the bakery over all of the years,” Cuyler said. “They will come in the bakery and say ‘I used to work here.’ I think someone comes into the bakery every week and says they used to work here.”

After three weeks in the new location, Stefanski is starting to regain a steady stream of customers. He didn’t want to move too far, since the area has been good to business for so long. Stefanski hopes the new student housing buildings set to open in fall of 2017 will bring even more people to the area. And more people means more business, he said.

Stefanski sees himself owning the bakery until he retires, like his mother before him. For him, it’s about keeping the family tradition and connecting with the community.

“A friend said I should have just taken the money after selling the old location and retired,” he said. “But I said ‘What am I going to do all day? Sit around and watch TV?’ I’d be bored to death. I like doing this, it keeps me social.”

CORRECTION: In a previous version of this article, details regarding the location of Brighton Bakery were misstated. The bakery is located in Syracuse’s Southside. The Daily Orange regrets this error.

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