Il Forno Romano
By Maria Pilar Clark
Today’s bread baskets are as diverse as the individual members of a family, teeming with uniquely flavored, rustically shaped, Old World-style baguettes and rolls that cater to mom-and-pop lunch counters and black tie-tabletops alike.
Il Foro Romano, or the Roman Forum, was the central hub in which ancient Rome developed. Here Romans, friends and countrymen lent an ear and gathered around the communal hearth to break bread and talk business.
Staying true to its traditional Italian roots, the Turano family comes together at their own Forno Romano, or oven, to enjoy hearth-baked pizza — a Friday-night family specialty — and discuss Turano Baking Co.’s future endeavors.
Toast of the Chi-Town
From its roots nearly a half-century ago, Berwyn, Ill.-based Turano Baking has emerged as a Chicago institution, crafting authentic European artisan bread from treasured family recipes, including its signature Pane Turano, a favorite that dates back to 424 B.C.
Established in 1962, the $100 million-plus bakery had more humble beginnings, when company chairman Renato “Ron” Turano and his two brothers went door-to-door in their neighborhood to deliver fresh artisan bread every day.
“The business began as a small corner bakery,” Turano recalls. “We started out like the milk man, going from house to house.”
As time wore on, the company’s retail customers soon wanted in on Turano’s bread, and so they started direct-store delivery, giving up the home-based delivery part of their business. It wasn’t long before restaurants asked for the artisan-bread products, too. Turano bread had become the toast of the town.
Once the Turano brothers took leadership of the company, they split it into three departments, with each brother overseeing the area that plays to his individual strengths.
“We actually carry equal weight,” Turano explains. “Over the years, things equalize, and we all have been important to the business in equal ways. It has worked very well, since we’ve worked together for 44 years and have gotten along very well.”
Ron Turano oversees finances and human resources. His brother Tony Turano is president and takes charge of production and operations. Giancarlo Turano is executive vice president and deals with sales and marketing.
“For 20 years, we lived next door to each other, and our kids grew up as brothers and sisters, rather than cousins, which has been great,” Turano reminisces. “For me, family has always been the essence of existence.”
Enjoying time with their families is an integral part of the family business, so if that’s a stereotype that exists about the Italian people, then Turano feels good about it. But, he also puts a great deal of effort into embracing the people who work for him.
“I feel that when it’s all said and done, and you are making a good living, you need to enjoy your family,” he says. “As a matter a fact, one of the biggest things for me is to balance our families and the relationships between our people. We want to make sure that there’s room for everybody. We don’t want anyone to feel threatened that family’s going to have everything.”
That’s right. At Turano, family members, while always welcomed with open arms, have to follow a strict code of conduct before being integrated into the family business. They first must complete a higher education and then work for someone outside of the family for three years or more.
“You have to bring something to the business,” Turano explains. “That’s for two reasons, one being that the business has to have the opportunity to grow, and two, so that family fits in rather than being pushed in.”
Ultimately, family becomes part of the dynamic. In fact, more than half of the Turano family currently works at the company, including Ron Turano’s brothers and five of their children.
“Nothing is automatic,” Turano notes. “They don’t come into the business just because they’re our sons or daughters. They have to see what it’s like to work for somebody else, and at the same time, know what their responsibilities have to be and how they deal with fellow employees.”
Turano feels that developing the character you need in order to guide others in the future is of utmost importance.
All Rolls Lead to Rome
Turano Baking certainly has expanded its deep roots, with business having branched out quite far from the surrounding neighborhoods on Chicago’s West Side. Today, the company’s 100 routes serve retailers and restaurants alike, with its freshly delivered breads and rolls gracing everything from the countertops in sandwich shops to white tablecloths in first-class establishments throughout Chicagoland, Indiana, Michigan and southern Wisconsin.
However, Turano Baking also serves mass merchandisers, retail chains and foodservice operations across the country with its extensive line of thaw-and-serve and par-baked products. In fact, 80% of the company’s business comes from national foodservice operations. According to Turano, the perception of bread among consumers has changed tremendously over the years.
“Most people enjoy it because of the versatility of the product,” he says. “You can serve a fresh loaf of bread that’s par-baked or thaw-and-serve even if you’re in a little remote town in Oklahoma.”
Turano Baking has customers in all 50 states and also serves part of Canada, with a small amount of business in Mexico. The company gleans its inspiration from European bakeries, which, Turano notes, already are the masters of artisan bread production. These days, it seems that Americans love nothing better than European imports, and as such, Turano recently added 50,000 sq. ft. of production space to its Berwyn, Ill. facility that houses two brand new artisan bread lines.
The first is a ciabatta line, which Turano calls a combination of a variety of equipment from Europe and Asia.
“It took us a long time to put it together,” he explains. “We basically took different pieces of machinery that can make different kinds of artisan products … so the line is very versatile.”
The resulting custom-designed line incorporates equipment from Italy, France, Germany and Japan, and is so versatile that it can run a small roll and then switch over to a 3-lb. panini loaf without a problem.
“It took us a little longer to put it together, but it’s harder to duplicate,” Turano adds.
The second line is a straight line that produces the company’s best-selling French bread and French rolls. Who knew that the best French bread around is made by Italians?
You Gotta Ciabatta
Ciabatta — an artisan-style bread with a crispy and chewy, semi-porous crumb — has become a hot commodity among consumers, although its production requires added time and specialized equipment, since the dough is different, and the leavening process is more involved.
“The process of making ciabatta is what our people in Europe used to do by hand long ago,” Turano explains. “You’d make the dough the night before, get up early in the morning, push it down, let it rise, push it down again, and it was an all day affair. It took 24 hours to make the whole product.”
Turano Baking simulates that Old World process in its bakery with its new custom-crafted line. (See “Artisan on Automatic,” page 21).
Flatbread is another ongoing bread trend, since it tends to be easy for foodservice operators and home cooks turned sandwich-crafters to use, and can be cut into varied sizes.
“People want different toppings on the flatbread,” Turano notes. “Since the product is flat, it carries toppings better, which can be anything from sesame seeds to cheese to nuts to olives.”
Turano notes that its focaccia bread — a flat Italian bread typically seasoned with herbs, sun-dried tomatoes, olives and olive oil — also is meeting with success.
Moreover, Turano notes that consumers are clamoring for similar bread products across local and national markets.
“Chicago, New York, San Francisco — those are the trendsetters as far as bread is concerned,” he asserts. “Since we take care of so many chains, they want to serve the same product they serve in Chicago as in Florida or Minnesota, so whatever we sell in our area is what’s requested everywhere else. We happen to be very good at consistency.”
The company’s par-baked products also are gaining in popularity, since it’s much easier for the end-user to control freshness and usage. Served hot, the bread can add premium positioning to everyday sandwiches and make a lasting impression when it comes to the fine-dining experience.
“Now, the chain restaurant can control the freshness of the product and the scale or portion of it,” Turano explains. “Operators know exactly what they need and waste a lot less.”
The restaurant bread basket is no longer comprised of run-of-the-mill, restaurant-variety white dinner rolls, and Turano Baking is ensuring that it reflects a taste of its family’s Calabrese heritage with artisan quality offerings. Much like any family, today’s bread baskets are packed with unique options such as rustic rounds, chewy baguettes and dark raisin ryes, prompting full-mouthed bread lovers to exclaim, squisito! SF&WB
The Turanos makes it a point to do everything together. It’s no wonder they also vacation family-style — including all nine grandchildren.
“All 21 of us, including two tutors and two babysitters, took a bus with the back turned into classroom for my grandchildren,” says Ron Turano, chairman of Turano Baking Co. “We went from place to place, and the tutors taught them what they needed to know for school, but also geography lessons on where we were and what it was.”
The house of Turano’s late father, company founder Mariano Turano, serves as a retreat for the family. Turano looks back fondly on a moment shared with his oldest grandson, who was in awe of the fact that fruit could simply be plucked from trees in the family’s orchard.
“Nonno, when you were a kid you lived here?” he asked of Turano. “That’s awesome.”
Looking back on his life’s accomplishments and loving family, Turano agrees, saying, “This year we’re going to take the trip again.”
For Turano, family is what makes life worth living. His children live within walking distance of his own house, giving ample opportunity for the doting grandfather to stop by before the grandkids head off to school or on his way home.
“You hold your family together, and you do things with them,” he says. “We put a lot of emphasis on family. That’s one of the reasons why the kids are in the business. They all have followed our advice and policies, were educated, and worked for someone else and then decided that they wanted to try the business part of it.”
As for retirement plans in the future?
“My wife wishes I would,” Turano says. “But I don’t think that’ll happen anytime soon. Hopefully, the kids will be able to take over and send us to Florida.”
What You Knead to Know
Company: Turano Baking Co.
Location: Berwyn, Illinois
Total No. Of plants: 3 — Berwyn, Ill., (165,000 sq. ft.) produces artisan breads and rolls; Knead Dough plant in Bolingbrook, Ill. (185,000 sq. ft.) produces breads and rolls; and a Turano Pastry Shop in Bloomingdale, Ill., (14,000 sq. ft.) produces pastries.
Renato “Ron” Turano — Chairman
Tony Turano — President
Giancarlo Turano — Executive Vice President
Lisa Turano — Corporate Counsel — 3rd generation
Joe Turano — Berwyn Plant Superintendent — 3rd generation
Mario Turano — Local Sales Manager — 3rd generation
Giancarlo Turano II — National Sales Account Manager — 3rd generation
Pane, Italian for bread, is more than just a dinnertime side dish. It’s finding its place as “The Official Bread of Lunch,” according to Turano Baking Co. billboards in Chicago that show that creatively crafted carbohydrates are more than just sauce soppers.
Turano’s Berwyn, Ill.-based bakery features a little known secret, a test kitchen that, according to company chairman Ron Turano, isn’t taken advantage of nearly as much it should be.
“There are so many ways in which foodservice operators can learn to use our bread,” Turano says. “We can show them how to make it more than just bread and something beautiful to see and eat.”
During Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery’s visit, Turano’s private chef, Paul Brigante, more than outdid himself with colorful sandwich presentations that were a feast for all the senses. His creations featured fresh Turano bread — sun-dried tomato focaccia, ciabatta with olives, and sesame-seed encrusted rustic rolls — layered with tasty fillings such as eggplant slices, pecorino cheese, mortadella, roasted red peppers, and fresh tomatoes and basil. Molto bene!
Ron Turano recently received an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside in Kenosha, Wis., acknowledging the inception of an exchange program he started between the university and the University of Calabria in Italy.
“It’s nice to be recognized,” says Turano, chairman of Turano Baking Co. “It was fulfilling.”
The unique program allows for the schools to exchange students, programs, teachers, seminars and more.
“I’m very proud of this program,” Turano says. “I come from an area in Calabria where the kids can’t find a job there so they have to go to Rome or all over the world to find something. This program allows them to stay there and work.”
According to Turano, Calabria is jam-packed with artisans that still produce Old World-style items. If Calabreses could band together with Italian-Americans living in the United States to form joint-ventures, “so that one makes and one sells it, a producing arm and a selling arm, then they could all be winners,” while promoting commerce in the area, he says.
La Dolce Visita
In 1995, Ron Turano, chairman of Turano Baking Co., received The Italian Cultural Center Man of the Year Award “for his leading role — as an immigrant from Castrolibero in Calabria — in inspiring the men and women of the Italian American community of Chicago to be proud loyal and productive citizens of America by his example, as a businessman, civic leader, humanitarian and devoted family man, for his enthusiastic attachment to his culture and ancestral heritage, for his love of all things true, noble and beautiful.”
Over a decade later, Turano’s countrymen have acknowledged his many accomplishments once again. In April of this year, Turano was elected to the Italian Senate, representing an estimated 400,000 Italians in North and Central America, which reflects a mission of leadership and tradition that has been in place since he made deliveries door-to-door.
“Even though I haven’t been in politics that long, it’s been an ongoing interest,” Turano observes. “I came here when I was 15 years old, but I always kept close ties with Italy.”
Turano has represented Calabria — one of 20 regions in Italy — in the United States for the last 10 years and also has represented the Midwest Chamber of Commerce on Assocamerestero, an association of 49 Italian Chambers of Commerce around the world. In addition, he has been president of the Chicago Chamber of Commerce, striking various businesses, political, cultural and educational agreements between it and the Chambers of Commerce in Milan, Venice and Tuscany.
“I have gained some recognition from different people in Italy and North America, and when Italy decided that it wanted its Italian citizens living abroad to vote, a group of friends got together and said, ‘Ron, we want you to be the senator for Italy. Is that possible?’” Turano recalls. “Of course I looked at them and said, ‘if that ever happens.’ I didn’t think it was going to happen. But then it became a reality, and I got a lot more excited for a couple of reasons. One is because there aren’t that many people from Italy coming to the United States or Canada anymore. The majority of them came in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized we need to maintain some of our [Italian] traditions and pass them on to our kids.”
Turano proposes to do just that by teaching Italian-American youth the Italian language and also by enriching their heritage with more elements of culture and tradition.
“I really felt that with my experience as an Italian, as a father, as a grandfather and as a businessman, that I had the preparation to actually go to Italy and do this,” he adds.
According to Turano, there are 56 million people currently living in Italy and 64 million people of Italian descent living abroad. Of those of living abroad, 5 million have Italian citizenship. There also are 470,000 Italians living throughout North America. He represents all of the Italians, from Alaska to Panama, which he says is “quite a territory.”
“We grew up with our grandmothers telling us stories about where we came from, and then it was also a learning experience about life itself,” Turano explains. “But grandmothers aren’t coming from Italy anymore, so we’re losing part of that. That’s a big reason why I’ve kept so involved in the Italian community. Preservation is important.”
Turano is a self-proclaimed, full-fledged senator who pledges to maintain Italian tradition among the Italian-American community so that today’s youth has the opportunity to preserve its heritage, since “80% of the world’s culture came from Italy,” he says.
Italy has 45 different parties, which is a good reflection of its multifaceted population.
“In theory, it’s well-represented of its people,” Turano says. “In practice, it’s very hard to pin people down to one party. So, [the government] has made two coalitions — one is left and the other is right. I am center-left.”
Turano maintains that center is the best place to be, since he can choose his stance on various issues in accordance to his values.
“Because of my business relationships, I tend to be a lot more conservative,” he adds. “But by the same token, I’m very liberal when it comes to our youth, especially with the education aspect.”
At the end of the day, Turano is content that he has the opportunity to do everything that he wants to do, even though frequent visite, or visits, to Rome keep him busy.
“I am pretty much a traditionalist with very basic values — family, religion, a strong work ethic — and one of the things that I find in venturing into politics is that I’m still the same guy, but people see me in a different way,” he notes. “People see you as a person who can do a lot of different things.”
Turano says that friends and extended family members have seemingly come out of the woodwork to support him since his election to the senate.
“I have been totally enjoying it,” he says. “It’s a renewal for me. I tend to buy into whatever I’m doing and really put all of myself into it and try to get as much out of it as I can. It gives me the ability to enjoy it and to give more.”
Turano looks forward his future adventures, both with the company and personal accomplishments as senatore. The key is taking everything as it comes. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Editor’s Note: A documentary featuring Italians living in Chicago will showcase the Turano Baking Co., the Turano family and the senator himself on PBS — Channel 11 in Chicago — at the end of the year. Check your local television listings.