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Alessi family prepares to expand retail business in bay area

NORTH BON AIR — The Alessi name — not to mention its famous family favorites — can be found almost anywhere these days, from party platters at local gatherings to grocery stores to the retailers around the country that sell pallets of the company's baked goods.

Still, it hasn't always been easy for locals to grab a square of Scachatta or pop in for an eclair. For years, Alessi has had just one retail outlet, a deli and bakery with only outdoor seating at 2909 W Cypress St.

That will change in 2010, when the family is scheduled to open at least two and possibly three new bakery and delis in the Tampa Bay area, with an eye on eventually franchising the Alessi brand.

The Alessi Bakery Cafe will open in March or April at 4001 W Kennedy Blvd., in a former Men's Wearhouse. The cafe will seat about 80 and be open for breakfast and lunch daily and dinner six nights a week.

The menu will feature the "best of the best," said CEO and president Phil Alessi Jr., like the famed Scachatta (Sicilian-style pizza with meat topping) and Alessi's most popular bakery items. The company also will experiment with newer items like focaccia and paninis and what it is calling a "hand-carved" Cuban, with a fresher take on the traditional sandwich.

Since the sign went up outside the new location, response has been "tremendous" from loyal customers, Alessi Jr. said.

"It's only 2 to 3 miles from Cypress, but it's going to be more convenient for some people that live in that area," he said.

The company also is scouting sites in Brandon and St. Petersburg.

Alessi has been operating in Tampa almost continuously since 1912, when Nicolo Alessi, originally from Italy, opened a bakery on Cherry Street and delivered Italian and Cuban bread by horse and wagon.

Phil Alessi Sr., Nicolo's grandson, has passed the top job on to his son, but has remained on board as the company has prepared to expand.

"He works Monday through Sunday and if there's another day in the week he works that, too," Alessi Jr. joked. "It's his love affair. It's not like work to him.

"My dad has been wanting to (expand) for the last 12 to 15 years. He's a visionary."

At one time in its history, Alessi had several locations scattered throughout Tampa and surrounding areas, but they closed decades ago, Alessi Jr. said. In more recent years, customers had to go to the heart of the city for a specialty guava turnover.

One of the biggest steps toward expansion was the 2008 opening of the company's $20 million, 100,000-square-foot manufacturing plant off Waters Avenue in Town 'N Country. The company ships its products to retailers such as Publix and Food Lion and to food service companies such as Sysco. The plant will provide some of the products for the new Alessi Bakery Cafe, but this and future locations also will have a baker on site.

The cafe will have several "action stations," said general manager Adam Priori, including a decorator and a carving station. It will have a kids' seating area, as well as access to small computers set up with educational games.

"It's not going to be the old-fashioned bakery you're used to," Priori said.

Phil Alessi Jr. said the company has pressed forward with its expansion plans despite the recession, in part because the deals on available commercial space are "really good."

"Anyone who owns a business has to be aggressive, in a conservative way," Alessi Jr. said. "You have to know your business and not bury your head in the sand."

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Alessi family prepares to expand retail business in bay area 12/03/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 2, 2009 6:41pm]
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