Termini Brothers Bakery is a beloved place for many Philadelphians and those who have left and come back to the region. The establishment is where we love to grab delectable baked goods for all types of special occasions or just an everyday tasty treat to ourselves. Its humble beginnings started in 1921 with brothers Giuseppe and Gaetano Termini, was passed along to Giuseppe’s only son Vincent Sr., and is now entrusted in the hands of his sons, Joseph and Vincent Jr., whom we recently had the honor to sit down and have have a chat with. You can read an excerpt from our conversation with the proud, hard-working South Philly brothers below.
La Colombe: Did you always want to work in the bakery? Will your children be taking over as well?
Vincent Termini: I did always want to work in the bakery. When I was little, I always wondered where my father was going all dressed in his whites. From a little boy who started going with him to the business, we learned to grow up and love it. It was always natural for us to be in the shop with our hands dirty. I always did want to grow up in it, and as I got older, it became more of a reality than a dream. And I went to culinary school with the ambition of joining the business when I was done. I don’t have any children, nor do I plan on having any children so I’ll pass this off to my brother who has three kids who we hope one day – we pray – to take over the business.
Joeseph Termini: Much like my brother – it was really a culture. That’s the best way that I can put it. It was a culture developed by my mother and father in working with my brother and I and explaining to us when we were little children where my father was going. What my grandfather was doing. It was really instilled within us to naturally want to be a part of the uniqueness and specialty aspect of that tradition. I remember being a real young kid going into the bakery with my brother and us looking at all the bakers in their whites and looking at my father and grandfather together and wanting to be part of that team at a very young age. So was it something that was born in us? I remember being a child and being told how important it is to follow this tradition that my grandfather started and my father helped to develop.
As far as my children are concerned – three small little boys ranging from in age of 5 years old to 3 months, sure, it’d be a dream of mine for them to join the business and carry it on. Again, it’s something that they need to love to do. It’s not something that can be bestowed upon a generation. It needs to be developed. They need to love it.
La Colombe: Is it a lot of pressure to uphold the family tradition and reputation?
VT: To this day up until now, yes, there has been an amount of pressure in transition from my father’s generation, the second generation, to us. We felt the responsibility to maintain it to a certain level where it was handed to us and to take the business to a certain level. We feel like we have a nice grasp on it right now. And it is on a higher level than when it was handed to us, and we want to take it to one more level before we do hand it off to my nephews.
JT: It’s an interesting question. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it is pressure. It was pressure on us in the sense that it wasn’t something that my brother and I were just handed. And all of a sudden we had to follow through to bring it up to a different level. Growing up in the business trained us to do what we do, and I remember at a young age – 18/19 years old – sitting there with my brother and us dreaming and collaborating on what we can do better. And make the product better. The secret to our success is that we are not focused on money. Profits aren’t everything for us. First and foremost, we are dedicated to the quality of the products and the quality of the service that set the standard for my father and grandfather. And when you have that at the forefront as your focus that you are concentrating on, you are bound to succeed.
LC: If you didn’t bake for a living, what would you want to do?
VT: I would want to be a professional baseball player like Derek Jeter.
VT: Why? Is that unrealistic? Honestly, when I was little, I’d say that I want to be a cop. I thought that I’d like the action, but as I grew up that changed a little bit. You kind of see what police officers go through.
JT: That’s a tough question. As crazy as it sounds, I never really imagined me doing anything else. I’ll be honest with you. I would never want to. And I can only speak for myself. The position and the role that we have in our business are unique, complex and interesting. You’re not locked into an office environment where you have to come and sit at a cubicle, and you’re not locked into a kitchen where you have to sit there and produce constantly. It’s the perfect marriage of being able to go downstairs and get your hands dirty and being able to go upstairs and come up with a plan to do things better based on your hands on experience. It’s just such a unique position that I have. I wouldn’t want to do anything else other than retire maybe. Wait – I figured it out. I’d want to be a full-time dad. That’s what I’d want to do. I miss my kids, especially after the holiday that we just had.
LC: Besides cannoli, what’s you’re favorite thing to eat and/or bake at your place?
JT: I have a couple. Our torrone is incredible. The torrone is insanely good. It’s a unique recipe that my grandfather developed, and he passed it on to my father. And now by brother has taken it on full-time, and it has only gotten better with age. It’s seasonal, and it’s all about the ingredients and the process of making it. It’s awesome. It’s perfect. And our pignoli cookies – again, simple recipe but the quality of ingredients and the method in which we use those Spanish and Portuguese pignoli nuts – just toasted perfectly. In my opinion, it’s the perfect dessert.
VT: I have very certain things that I love. I’m very particular. Only for the month of March, we have St. Joseph’s Day cakes. They’re called zeppole, and we only make them until the month of March up until St. Joseph’s Day, March 19, and then we stop. I like a made-to-order cake that we only make for the holidays called Zuppa Inglese. It’s kind of like our Italian cream cake/sponge cake. It’s a very traditional Sicilian cake. That’s my favorite. I love that. I could keep going.
LC: What is your Christmas Eve tradition, and how did it start?
JT: Throughout the year, we have our customers who are so loyal and so true to our brand. They’re extremely passionate and vocal as far as what they like and what they would like to see from us. They come during all times of the year. Well, Christmas Eve, in particular, is the one day of the year that they all come back together. And the reason why they all come back together is because Termini Brothers is the tradition that they hold closest to their hearts. This past year, they were out there at twelve thirty at night. And it’s not the way a Black Friday would be taken. These people specifically go there because they want to see the other customers that they see just that one day a year during that timeframe. They are in full-fledged conversation. They know each other’s kids. They’re hugging each other. They’re loving each other. And it’s almost as though it’s a birthday party for the business that everybody is invited to. We bring pizza. We have La Colombe coffee there. We give out drinks, and pass out cannoli all day. The customers are dancing, and the string bands are there. It’s just a celebration of all things Termini Brothers.
VT: It’s something that we didn’t create. It’s something that came of itself on its own. It’s the customers’ day. The customers created it.
LC: We hear that you are planning to expand the Termini Brothers brand on your block. Can you tell us more about that?
VT: Whenever property adjacent to our business becomes available, we always try to buy it. It’s like we’re investing in ourselves. We had a unique opportunity. A property became available adjacent to our parking lot, and it’s a nice size property. We purchased it about two years ago with zero intensions – not knowing what we are going to do with it. Over the past two years, we’ve really had a marriage with the La Colombe brand, and we kind of looked at each other and thought that this might be a beautiful opportunity for us to marry the Termini brand with La Colombe, offering a real true La Colombe product at our Termini coffee house. So we want to make a coffee house that reflects the Termini brand and the three generations of the Termini brand, whether it’s old machines that date back to the early 1900s or just old artifacts that my grandfather or father used or stopped using to be held on as keepsakes. We’re going to show them off in this type of coffee house. In doing so, we are going to offer the premium coffee that we know of in La Colombe. We’re also going to offer some products that we sell at our bakery, but it’s going to be more made to the tune of made-to-order. For instance, our signature item, the cannoli, our intensions are to deep fry the cannoli to order. La Colombe is known for their fresh hand-poured coffee. Well, it’s going to have the same type of feel with our cannoli. You order the ricotta cheese cannoli. Well, you are now going to see us pin the cannoli around the maple wood and deep fry it, have it cool, and we are going to fill it right there for you, dusted with sugar – something that’s really not offered anywhere. That’s what we are planning on doing. We have the actual plans on the table. We’re in the process of doing it hopefully by the fall of 2015.