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Co-owners Filomena "Mena" Castriciano (left) and Sostine Castriciano
It was Roma Bakery’s first day in business, co-owners Filomena “Mena” Castriciano and her husband, Sostine Castriciano, were waiting eagerly to open their doors.
In early 1969, Frank Antonio’s Italian Market on Erie and Cedar Street had closed. With help of Mena’s aunt Giovannina Baldino-Pecora the Castricianos were taking it over in March. It was only a cozy 1,200 square feet.
But there was a problem — there was no money in the cash register to make change.
“My papa had to hurry up and send me $300 to make it through the day. I’ll never forget it,” Mena Castriciano said.
The bakery’s first customers were Italian friends and family members.
“One of my cousins came here and bought $140 worth of groceries that day.”
The dish that would give Roma Bakery its early staying power, oddly enough, wasn’t a baked good. It was baccala, or salted cod, which proved popular among Roma’s early Italian, Greek and Iranian customers who sought after it with zeal.
“I used to ask our early customers if they liked our food and would ask what recipes they were going to try. We taught each other,” she said.
Three months into the new business, the first bread offered at the bakery was French bread and Italian round loaves made by her husband, a classically trained Italian baker.
“I noticed we don’t have good bread here. They’d never had bread that was crunchy here, only mushy. Our customers wanted better bread and I said ‘Sostine you are a good baker. Let’s make bread,’” she said.
Baccala and fresh Italian breads were some of many goods Roma Bakery popularized in the Lansing area, she added.
“People came and enjoyed our different food. In those days, nobody knew about — or had — prosciutto in Lansing. The same with mortadella and fresh mozzarella. It was only us,” she said.
The Castricinao’s expanded their business into its current 5,500-square -foot residence in the mid-‘70s.
“Can you imagine a time without olive oil? People thought it was too sharp of a taste. The only romano cheese Lansing had came in a can. I thought ‘Are you kidding me? We could find something better than this.’” Since then, Roma Bakery has rocketed to have dozens of variety baked goods, types of Italian sandwiches, Italian cheeses, homemade pastas and more.
Now in their 70s, the Castricianos hope to pass on the business to the next generation.
“The world is changing. We’re not as healthy as what we used to be before. I’m hoping we can make it two more years,” she said.
“If something happened to my husband, we’d have to close. He knows everything. I want to keep it as the way it is. I need to find someone, a husband and wife or two friends to run it. I want it to always remain as Roma Bakery.”
For its 50th anniversary, the Castricianos plan to treat their customers with samples of all of its food and entertainment by singer Gino Federici.
They also plan to have a raffle with a giveaway basket of $100 worth of Italian goods. The next event at Roma Bakery will be its Zeppole Festival on March 19.
“We like to cook for and enjoy people. It is our life. So I say ‘Buon appetito and mangia mangia.’"
Roma Bakery Anniversary Party
Saturday, March 9 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday-Friday
9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday
Roma Bakery, Deli & Fine Foods
428 N. Cedar St., Lansing