West Roxbury lost a treasure recently: Hanley's Bakery closed, as owner Ray Wilfert retired from the grueling hours required to serve the half-moon cookies, brambles, and wedding cakes the shop churned out for more than 50 years.
Fortunately, nearby Roslindale Village can rescue even the most sugar-starved residents. It may have the bakingest block in Boston: six bakeries within one square block, outlined by South, Corinth, Poplar, and Washington streets.
Roslindale's six bakeries rank it second among neighborhoods only to Chinatown, which has nine, for the number of such businesses, according to the Department of Neighborhood Services.
Roslindale Village has long been known for its bakeries. While ownership of some stores has changed, most of the recipes remain the same; patrons are fiercely loyal to ''their" bakeries.
Just ask Ann Evans of Roslindale. She's been a patron of Diane's Bakery for 50 years.
Does she ever even drop in to one of the other bakeries?
''No. This is the only one I go to. I've always come to Diane's and I'll continue to. I like it here. They know me. It's been the same staff the last 40 years or so," she declares. Owner Robert Anderson bought Diane's, which had opened as Paul's bakery in the 1920s, in 1968. Cake decorator Susan Vittorini has worked the counter for 31 years.
Diane's is best known for its filled croissants (egg and cheese in the mornings; turkey-stuffing-cranberry and broccoli-cheese at lunch), pumpkin muffins, and refrigerator cookies.
A few doors down, John's Bakery is a favorite for breads, rolls, pies, and pizza. Owner Jon Poma learned the baking trade from his late father, John, who opened the bakery in 1964. His mother, Yolanda Poma, 73, still works there most afternoons.
''I grew up here," says Jon Poma. ''Before school, after school. It's all I've ever known. I've been full time since 1981."
The number one seller at John's is sliced Italian Scala bread, followed by round peasant-style bread, pizzas, and pies. (''Ricotta pie, Dad's recipe, is our best-selling pie," says Jon.) Other pies, available by special order, include apple-caramel-walnut, wild raspberry, peach praline, and sweet-potato crunch.
''Some customers come in every day for bread," says Poma, 43. ''Our older customers are dropping off, but now their kids come in."
Customer Leopold ''Paul" Minzberg of West Roxbury, originally from Russia, buys bread at John's almost every day. ''It is very delicious bread. And if I can't get here before they close, they leave the bread over at the fish market for me," he says.
A. Boschetto Bakery, located nearby, is owned by Joe Murphy and his daughter, Lisa O'Connor. Murphy bought the bakery two years ago; it opened in 1952. Famous for strawberry whipped-cream cakes, wedding cakes, cookies, and pastries, O'Connor is introducing a line of artisan and Old World breads to the mix.
Murphy's father, a police officer, had a beat in Roslindale, walking by the bakery when it was owned by the Boschetto family every day he was on the job. Asked if he ever considers changing the bakery's name, Murphy says: ''Boschetto's is an icon. People know the name, and they know the name represents quality. I'll never change the name, but I did put a shamrock on the back of the hats our workers wear."
On a recent Saturday afternoon, the patrons at the Boschetto's counter were a mix of electricians and social workers, Irish and African-American, young and old: a mirror of the Roslindale, West Roxbury, Mattapan, Jamaica Plain, and Hyde Park neighborhoods they hail from. Some, like Nancy Rando of Wrentham and Harriett Katz of Newton, have made special trips to Roslindale to pick up whipped-cream cakes and other favorites.
Bob's Pita Bakery, formerly Droubi Brothers, is the place to go for pita bread. Owner Robert Khouzami bought the bakery in 1980 from the three Droubi brothers, who opened the store in 1972. At the time, Khouzami says, it was a wholesale bakery, selling just pita bread, mainly to locals, on the retail side.
Khouzami expanded the retail business to include a grocery business. While the grocery business thrives, wholesale sales of pita bread still make up the bulk of Bob's business. Khouzami estimates he sells about 3,000 bags of pita bread a day to area restaurants and distributors.
Like Boschetto's, Bob's Pita Bakery has both a strong local following and loyal customers from farther away. Nabil Khoury, with his wife and 2-year-old son, recently drove up from Canton to shop at Bob's, and does so about once a week. ''I come for many reasons: the quality, the price, and the variety. The supermarkets are not as good, not as cheap. It is a unique store," Khoury said.
Ruth Bodian works in Roslindale and lives in JP. While she likes supporting local businesses, ''it's more than that," she says. ''I'm also trying to do what I can to support a Middle Eastern business. I hope that somehow -- and this may not come out quite right -- as a Jewish person shopping here, I'm helping, in some small way, to broker peace."
Fornax Bread Baking Co., owned by Chris and Kim Fallon, opened its doors in October of 1997. The newcomer to this well-established baking neighborhood, Fallon says he never thought about the other bakeries as competition.
''I wanted to open my business in a place I could afford, that is near where I live, and has the train and Arboretum nearby," he says. ''I found all that in Roslindale."
The quirky retail space, with its mismatched tables and chairs, windows steamed from the breads baking in the back room, often has standing room only as people line up to buy Fornax breads, cinnamon twists, biscuits, sandwiches, and soups.
Another world of sorts exists at Vouros Bakery. The display cases, bursting with pastries and cookies, also showcase Greek specialty items, such as pistachio preserves, Greek Nescafe coffee, and sugared sour-cherry juice.
Asked about the most popular items in her shop, Maria Tzigizis, who together with husband Yiannis Tzigizis, has owned the bakery since 1997, replies without hesitation ''kataife" (a baklava-like pastry made from shredded wheat and filled with nuts and honey), ''galagtoboureko" (a pie made of custard cream wrapped in philo dough and honey), ''and milfei" (their unique spelling for a dessert made from puff pastry, pastry cream, and whipped cream).
''If we don't have those, we might as well close our doors. Customers come expecting these and become furious if we run out."
Robert Anderson from Diane's Bakery describes how the bakery owners stick together and help one another out. ''If Boschetto's need boxes, they come and borrow some of ours. John's comes for coffee. We go to John's for sub rolls."
Emily Haber, program director of Boston Main Streets, part of Boston's Department of Neighborhood Development, says that while Chinatown's nine bakeries almost all sell specialized Chinese baked goods, ''what makes Roslindale exciting and interesting is the many different cultures the bakeries represent."
Janice Williams, director of Roslindale Village Main Streets, agrees.
''Each bakery has its own specialty products and clientele. But they work together. That is how they all survive."
Asked about her preferences, Williams says: ''I shop them all. I love Boschetto's whipped-cream cakes, Diane's cinnamon rolls and filled croissants. Bob's pita bread and the feta pizzas he sells are the best around, and Vouros has wonderful Greek pastries. When I was younger and lived in JP, I would bicycle up to John's with my daughter to buy Italian bread hot out of the oven. We'd get two loaves, but only one ever made it into the house -- we'd eat a whole loaf on our way home! I still go there from time to time.
''I hope all the West Roxbury people who miss their baked goods come on down to Roslindale Village," Williams says proudly. ''We have something here for everyone."