Conshohocken Italian Bakery Celebrates 50 Years
by Brian and Jack Coll
Let’s start by shouting for the whole Community to hear… HAPPY ANNIVERSARY! 50 years! Wow.
We love the Gambone family. We are so grateful for their friendship and generosity to the community. Occasionally we will see that someone is in need and before I figure out who we can turn to, the phone rings and the folks at the bakery want to help out. They donate rolls to every Thanksgiving and Christmas meal that goes out in our community. They have been the silent partner in so many beef and beers over the years. We can go on and on about the generosity that pours from their hearts.
This Sunday, they are closing down Jones Street for a party! Bob Kelly from Fox 29 is going to be the master of ceremonies and a few special guests will be on hand. Please show up hungry, the folks at the bakery know how to feed you. In addition to some special guests, we understand there may be a few famous sandwiches on hand that use the best rolls in the world. The party is from 1-4 and they ask you bring your appetite, dancing shoes and new kids pajamas for Kelly’s Kidz or a monetary donation to Kelly’s Kidz.
This next part is taken directly from our book titled Conshohocken & West Conshohocken – People, Places and Stories.
I can remember when the Conshohocken Italian Bakery opened for business on a chilly March day back in 1973, I thought they were crazy. Domenic Gambone and Frank Manze were partners in business and I thought they were crazy because Conshohocken in 1973 had more residents packing their bags and leaving the borough then we had residents moving-in.
If you lived in the borough in 1973 then you know what I’m talking about. Throughout the late 1950’s and 1960’s the steel industry had dried up, jobs were going overseas, in a matter of 20 years residents living in the borough had dropped from 11,000 residents to just over 7,000. There were no longer shoppers along lower Fayette Street and in the once heavily populated lower end of town. Store windows throughout the shopping district were whitewashed and boarded up. The hundreds residents who once lived in the apartments over the stores had long moved out of town. Lower Fayette Street, both sides of Elm Street, East Hector Street all looked deserted and vandals left their mark on many of the properties.
In 1940 Conshohocken had a total of more than 230 retail outlets in the borough, most of them in the lower end, by 1973 one would be hard pressed to find thirty businesses in the lower end turning a profit.
I remember the early 1970’s well, it was the year I moved into Conshohocken. I moved to Conshohocken because I couldn’t afford Bridgeport or Norristown, and the only thing on my mind when I moved into Conshy was moving out, they were giving away houses down on Hector Street from $4,000-$7,000 depending on a dirt floor in the basement or a concrete basement floor.
That’s why I remember thinking those guys opening a bakery down at Hector and Jones Streets were crazy, everyone was running out of Conshohocken and they were running in. Domenic and Frank knew something or saw something, or just felt something. In the early 1970’s they were the only ones who believed in Conshohocken strong enough to open a business, and plant roots here.
We wanted to lay out a bit of history there showing what they were walking into when they opened here in Conshohocken in 1973. Domenic and Frank, like most people who go into business had a vision and a dream. Domenic came to this country at 18 years old. He worked a few jobs including a cheese maker for Michael Granese Cheese, as a presser for Jacob Reeds and at a bakery called Borzillo’s Bakery. It was there he met Frank Manze. Over the years of working together they thought they should go chase the American dream together. They looked all over the area before settling into a small space at Jones Street here in Conshohocken. Believe it or not, Pudge’s steaks was one of their first customers. In the early days, the bakery was primarily wholesale, but a small retail operation was set up to help the residents.
A few fun facts about the Conshohocken Italian Bakery. In 2005 the bakery baked a 54 foot long hot dog roll which at the time broke the Guinness Book of World Records (it has since been beaten according to a quick search).
in 2000, the Conshohocken Italian Bakery broke down part of their wall in order to bake a 150 foot hoagie roll to help celebrate Conshohocken and our Sesquicentennial. You had to see this! It came right out of the bakery, all the way across the street and it was a massive hoagie!
Sadly Frank Manze passed away in 2010 soon after his retirement.
Today you can still find Domenic Gambone making breads and rolls the way he did 50 years ago. I often see him early in the mornings there. He is always quick to smile and ask about our family. Most days we ask about this and then his son Michael or daughter Tina pop their head around the corner as they are an incredible family run business. Over the years, I’ve seen at least one of Domenic’s grandchildren working there with him (which is awesome).
Earlier I mentioned chasing the American dream… that really means something in this case. Domenic came here from Italy when he was a teenager. He landed in New York City, was brought to Norristown by family, put his head down and worked hard. Met his wife through a friend at Borzillo’s Bakery, they raised their family here. We as a community (and personally) are so lucky they took a chance on opening their business in Conshohocken. When we go to the bakery in the morning we love seeing Anna (Domenic’s sister) or Tina (Domenic’s Daughter) or maybe Diane or Shelby. The whole crew at the Conshohocken Italian Bakery are great and we can’t wait to celebrate with them this Sunday. The party goes from 1-4. We need to mention this before we go… You know Lou’s Zeps… guess what, made on Conshohocken Italian Bakery rolls. How about the Schmitter… yup, made with Conshohocken Italian Bakery rolls. So many restaurants are using Conshohocken Italian Bakery rolls.
We just got word that Bob Kelly will be broadcasting this Friday from the bakery. Stop by for your tomato pie, rolls, or specialty items, say hi to Bob and then come back on Sunday for the party!
One more time….. thank you Conshohocken Italian Bakery, all your staff, all your family, thank you for taking a chance on Conshohocken 50 years ago. Here’s to another 50 years!
Both Jack and Brian Coll contributed to this story. To the entire bakery family, the Coll family thanks you, we are honored by your friendship.