A short drive down a town’s main drag can reveal much about its ethnicity.
Such is the case with the commercial strip of Lake Street in west suburban Melrose Park. This thoroughfare is dotted with Mexican restaurants, bridal shops and other businesses catering to the Hispanic community.
But one business has remained true to Melrose Park’s Italian roots with a focus on family ties, having fun and turning out the finest fresh baked bread this side of Serino, Italy. Now entering its 59th year, Scudiero’s Italian Bakery is a Melrose Park landmark where customers can feast on Scudiero’s storied pizza bread, submarine sandwiches, and other delicacies.
While the Italian flag still flies proudly outside Scudiero’s storefront at 2113 Lake Street, many of Melrose Park’s famed eateries like Come Back Inn and Slicker Sam’s have fallen by the wayside. When asked about Scudiero’s recipe for success, Anthony “Tony” Scudiero simply said, “we’re a family run business and we keep it open out of pride.” The fact that Tony, his twin brother Aldo, and other family members have fun running the business is another reason why Scudiero’s is still going strong despite the rapidly changing Lake Street landscape.
Indeed, the Scudiero Bakery story reads like many other “up from the bootstraps” tales so prevalent in Melrose Park during the post-World War 2 era. Tony and Aldo’s grandfather, Umbaldo Datoli learned the art of baking from his father, Michael, a native of Serino, Italy. When Umbaldo returned from the war, he set up shop in the little storefront on Lake Street and put down roots in Melrose Park.
Although the store was first known as the Melrose Park Italian Bakery, Tony Scudiero said its earliest incarnation was as an Italian grocery store and source for hard-to-find imported food favorites. Nowadays, these products are available at any Jewel or Caputo’s, so the evolution to a “bread business” was a boon to customers and owners alike. And the bread business continues to boom. On an ordinary day, 5th generation baker Aldo generally turns out about 350 loaves of white and wheat bread!
When Umbaldo passed away in 1969, his daughter Lena Scudiero took over the business and ran it on her own until 1976. That’s when her husband, Joe, joined her with an eye towards expanding the business. Melrose Park Italian Bakery became Scudiero’s Bakery in 1978. With a work ethic that rivaled the late Walter Payton’s, Joe Scudiero stayed open on Sundays during football season so hungry Bears fans could bring Scudiero’s fare to their tailgate parties.
In addition to not dropping the ball on Bears fans, Scudiero’s left many holding the bag! As people stopped to chat inside the cozy little bakery, Joe Scudiero would snap photos of them posing with the iconic Scudiero’s bread bag. All told, he took about 2,000 pictures of everyone from Frank Sinatra and Carol Lawrence to the many regulars who took up residence at Scudiero’s. The bread bag also became the “Flat Stanley” of its day with people bringing it with them on their travels.
The bread bag pictures lined the walls until Scudiero’s underwent a complete overhaul in 1998. It shut its doors for two months until reopening with additional seating and its present day ambiance. While the photos were taken down and safely stored away, workers had to maneuver around the bakery’s gigantic old Middlbe-Marshall oven, which was built in the early 1900s. Tony Scudiero—who also serves as a Melrose Park fireman—recalled that it was originally a coal-fed oven until Joe Scudiero converted it to gas.
Catering was also added to the Scudiero’s menu in 1998, much to the delight of its ever-expanding customer base. Tony Scudiero noted that it’s not unusual for former Melrose Park residents to stop in and bring home stacks of pizza bread to store away in their freezers. There is also a huge demand for the family’s famous 3-pound Easter calzones.
While this cold January weather makes it hard to believe that Easter is just around the corner, a trip to Scudiero’s Bakery is a sure-fire way to chase the winter blues away. The smell of freshly baked, preservative-free bread wafts throughout the cozy store while colorful Italian cookies do double duty as eye candy in the display cases. Photos and press clippings pay tribute to Joe “Bones” Scudiero who died in 2007. Although Joe has passed on, his family continues to honor his legacy and live by his words, “you don’t judge a man by his wealth, you judge the man by the family he’s raised.”
This little bakery might be steeped in history but Scudiero’s also has its eye on utilizing new technology to showcase its offerings. Tony Scudiero has been toying around with the idea of bringing back the bread bag photos on their Facebook page. And if you tune into WGN television in the next few months, you might catch the Scudiero’s serving as a backdrop for a “Chicago’s Very Own” promo.
Scudiero’s is open from Monday through Friday from 9 am until 4:30 pm. The family also does business on Saturdays from 9am until 4pm. It will also be open from 10am until 3pm on Sunday, February 3 for "big game" tailgating needs. You can order ahead by calling 708-343-2976 or via fax at 708-343-BEST (2378)