On Saturday, August 21, 1993, Borracchini's Bakery & Mediterranean Market in Seattle bakes, decorates, and sells a record 125 wedding cakes, enough, owner Remo Borracchini estimates, to serve 13,780 wedding guests. The Rainier Valley business, founded in 1922 by Italian immigrants Mario and Maria Borracchini, is famous for its custom cakes, friendly customer service, and pink cake box stamped with the message "Cakes decorated while you wait." Located for more than 80 years at 2307 Rainier Avenue S, Borracchini's will be no match for COVID-19. When weddings and other celebrations are banned in 2020 because of the pandemic, the request for custom cakes evaporates and Borracchini's closes permanently on March 20, 2021, after nearly 100 years in business.
From Tuscany to Tacoma
Mario and Maria Borracchini moved from the region of Tuscany, Italy, to the Pacific Northwest in 1921. The couple first settled in Tacoma, working in a family-owned restaurant. Their cousins were part of the prominent Northwest families of Rosellini and Gasparetti, both restaurateurs, who had arrived in the Northwest earlier and paved the way. In 1923, the Borracchinis moved to Seattle and started baking bread in the basement of their home in Rainier Valley, then Seattle's "Little Italy" neighborhood. They called the business the International French Bakery.
Mario and Maria raised five children who helped out as best they could, depending on their ages. One task was to fire up the brick oven early in the morning and keep it heated throughout the day as Maria made bread. Because the couple did not speak English fluently, they did most of their business with other Italians in the area. Theirs was a more traditional bakery and small grocery store, offering a variety of breads along with imported goods such as olive oil, tomatoes, and pastas. Cakes would be added later.
As the children grew, the bakery expanded into retail sales. Brothers Dino (1921-2014), Angelo (1924-2015) and Remo (b. 1930) took over from their parents. Through the decades, other family members took their turn behind the counter. In its latter years, the bakery was run by Remo's three daughters: Lisa Desimone, Mimi Norris, and Nannette Heye.
Famous for Cakes
In 1939, the three sons "moved the business from the house on 20th Avenue South to its longstanding location at 2307 Rainier Avenue South, newly constructed and described as a Spanish Revival building with red clay roof tiles and arched windows. The brothers were proud of the bakery. Its oven could bake 576 loaves and the mixer could handle 700 pounds of dough at a time" (Lacitis). At the time of the move, the business was called the Ginger Belle Bakery. In the mid-1960s, Remo bought out his brothers and changed the name once again – this time to Remo Borracchini's Bakery & Mediterranean Market.
Under Remo's guidance, Borracchini's became famous for its cakes. Customers could choose the shape they wanted: round, rectangular, even heart-shaped. Next was the batter – white or chocolate, banana or carrot. Once the shape and flavor were selected, the fun started. Customers would select their decorations based on the event they were celebrating. Here, the sky was the limit: graduation hats or dinosaurs, wedding flowers or Easter bunnies. A spray painter worked with a pencil-sized gun to sketch out the design. Words, greetings, and names were added with a flourish. Florettes of icing were the final touches. Kids were welcomed to watch: The bakery added an elevated observation platform just for that purpose.
In its heyday, the business employed 70 bakers and 20 decorators; many were Asian Americans who learned the basics of cake decorating on the job. Some days, the staff baked and decorated as many as 150 birthday cakes. An average of 110 wedding cakes flew out the door each weekend. One weekend in August 1993, Remo Borracchini and his bakers produced an all-time-high number of wedding cakes: "Last Saturday we did 125 wedding cakes and I figured out, that on that day, 13,780 people were eating our wedding cakes in Seattle," Borracchini told The Seattle Times (Hinterberger).
The neighborhood around the bakery deteriorated over time. In 2006, two armed men stormed into the building through an unlocked employee entrance in the pre-dawn hours while the bakers were starting their day. The men forced several of the employees to the floor and pistol-whipped one woman, but the manager escaped and called 911. When police arrived, the men had already fled, taking one employee's wallet. Within hours, the team was back at work, baking bread and frosting cakes. For days afterward as word spread, neighbors and customers made a point of stopping by, just to make sure everyone was okay.
In 2017, customer Elizabeth "Nonnie" Sye was pulling into the parking lot at Borracchini's to pick up a birthday cake for her grandson when a man in a silver four-door sedan pulled up next to her car, took out a gun and opened fire. Sye was not hurt but her 16-year-old daughter was hit multiple times and died in her mother's arms. One person inside the bakery was wounded by a stray bullet but survived. The murder is still unsolved.
Closed for Good
Borracchini's was able to go on despite these crimes but the bakery was no match for the coronavirus pandemic. After nearly 100 years in business, Borracchini's closed for good on March 20, 2021.The unexpected announcement was made on the shop's Facebook page. According to the post: "We are in the party business. The problem with that is no one has been gathering for over the past year to have those parties. Needless to say, it was devastating to our business" (Borracchini's Bakery Facebook).
The family received an outpouring of support, and within hours, its Facebook page generated "2,000 comments and more than 3,000 shares. Many commenters extolled the meticulously decorated desserts that served as centerpieces for countless celebrations over the decades, packaged in the familiar pink box with the bakery's name in blue calligraphy. 'Literally every cake my grandma got me for my birthday each year came from there," Robin Wehl Martin of acclaimed bakery Hello Robin told Eater Seattle. 'I remember the breadsticks you could buy in bulk, and the butter cookies with sprinkles, which definitely started my passion for baking and trying everything. It really was a Seattle staple'" (Eater Seattle).