Quinzani’s Bakery, which has been supplying bread to hundreds of Boston businesses for almost a century, is selling its South End building and closing next week, the latest industrial site to vacate the rapidly gentrifying part of the neighborhood where the Massachusetts Turnpike meets the Southeast Expressway.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Rob-Roy Quinzani, a descendant of the Italian immigrant brothers who opened the business in 1919. “There’s presently no one in the fourth generation to hand it down to.”
The Harrison Street building is under agreement, Quinzani said, but he declined to identify the buyer. The company employs about 90 workers.
It’s a familiar story amid the city’s development boom: a blue-collar business shuts down as a gritty neighborhood goes upscale, paving the way for investors to put up a luxury residence or high-end retail buildings.
This corner of the South End still has plenty of grit: Roughly 500 homeless people reside at the Pine Street Inn, a shelter across the street from the bakery. The Ho Kong Bean Sprout Co. next door is still in business.
But the once-largely industrial neighborhood has become one of the city’s hottest real estate markets, due in part to new zoning guidelines that allow buildings as tall as 200 feet. A block from Quinzani’s, the new Ink Block complex features a Whole Foods, a luxury condo building, and 315 apartments renting for up to $6,000 a month. The Ink Block developer just launched sales at Siena, with condos selling for as much as $2 million.
Behind Quinzani’s, the new Troy Boston apartment building, with gas fireplaces and leather couches in the lobby, is largely full. And more projects are in the works, including an 11-story office and retail building and a 602-unit apartment building.
All these changes don’t concern Bob Wells, a member of the Old Dover Neighborhood Association and a resident since 1992. Wells, 72, has seen the area evolve from a land of “weeds and drug dealers” into a thriving neighborhood with galleries, markets, and, best of all, people.
“Things are going to develop, that’s good, as long as they develop in the right direction,” he said.
Quinzani’s first opened as a pastry shop in theold Combat Zone downtown and moved to its current location at 380 Harrison Ave. about 50 years ago. The business grew from one horse-drawn delivery wagon to a fleet of trucks operating on five delivery routes around Greater Boston and 30 independent distributors covering New England, according to its website.
The wholesaler serves 800 clients in all, including caterers, delis, restaurants, and food service companies.
Quinzani’s may have even been responsible for a once-common tradition at local Chinese restaurants: serving dinner rolls with the meals. In the mid 1990s, the Globe reported that more than 200 Chinese restaurant owners from as far away as Tewksbury descended on Quinzani’s every morning to pick up baguettes and rolls. According to the story, the relationship started when the Quinzani brothers opened a pastry shop on LaGrange Street and convinced Chinese restaurant owners nearby that they should serve bread in their restaurants — an American staple that would make diners more comfortable.
Calise & Sons Bakery of Lincoln, R.I., will take over Quinzani’s business and will make most of the bakery’s products in conjunction with Piantedosi Baking Co. in Malden.
Blunch, the South End spot that serves pressed sandwiches with gourmet ingredients such as goat cheese and basil cashew pesto, has been serving Quinzani’s bread for seven years. Owner Nikki Christo Leo said she will miss not only the Quinzani family, but their proximity. “When I run out of bread mid-rush, they won’t be down the street for me to go and retrieve it.”
For Quinzani’s workers, however, the transition will be more difficult.
Tan Guan, 61, has worked at the bakery for 15 years, the last four as a baker on the night shift making $13.89 an hour, with paid holidays and three weeks of vacation. Guan is getting a severance package, a half-week of pay for every year of service, but is worried about finding a new job.
“It’s going to be really hard for me to look for work,” he said in Chinese through a translator on Friday. “I’m over 60 years old.”
The Quinzanis said in a statement that they are working with the state office of Labor and Workforce Development to help find work for their “loyal and assiduous employees.”
“We’re doing the best we can do for them,” said Rob-Roy Quinzani, who co-owns the business with his brother Stephen and cousin Larry.
Quinzani declined to comment on how the bakery’s closing fits into the changing face of the neighborhood. “I don’t want to look like I’m selling out and walking away,” he said.