Some may know the Alessi name from the 106-year-old Tampa bakery. Others may recognize Tampa-based Alessi Promotions that produced boxing cards around the world.
On Sunday, family patriarch Phil Alessi Sr., the man most responsible for growing the Alessi brand, died at Tampa General Hospital after battling diabetes for years, son Phil Alessi Jr. told the Tampa Bay Times.
He was 74.
"Phil was special," said longtime friend and radio personality Tedd Webb. "He was one of those guys who knew what he wanted to do early on in life, did it and did it better than anyone else in town."
It was under Mr. Alessi Sr.’s watch in the 1990s that Publix first began carrying the Alessi Bakery’s products.
And in boxing, he promoted fight cards that included the likes of Marvin Hagler, George Foreman and Joe Frazier, which earned Mr. Alessi Sr. a place in the second class inducted into the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame, alongside Muhammad Ali.
"He loved boxing," said his son and fourth-generation bakery owner Alessi Jr. "He made a huge impact on the sport."
On occasion, his son said, boxing great Ali would even sign autographs at the old Alessi Farmers Market to help drum up business.
The Alessi Bakery was founded in 1912 on Cherry Street by Nicolo Alessi after he arrived in Tampa from his native Italy. It would later relocate to Howard Avenue, where John Alessi eventually became second-generation owner.
When he was just 6 years old, Mr. Alessi Sr. began working for his father, first shining shoes outside the bakery and later during that same year learning to make Cuban bread when the unionized bakers went on strike.
By the time he was 8, he was taught to make specialty cakes and was traveling with his father to baking conventions around the country to further learn the trade.
And by 17 he was running his own business, Phil’s Bakery. He’d later own five Cake Box bakeries located throughout Tampa.
But when his father grew too ill to manage the Alessi Bakery, Mr. Alessi Sr. closed his operations to run the family business.
He moved the bakery to its current W Cypress Street location and opened a 100,000-square-foot facility on Eagle Trail Drive to ship products throughout the country.
"He’s the one who made the bakery what it is today, but he never wanted to take the credit," Alessi Jr. said. "He always kept in mind his father and grandfather put him in the position to succeed."
Boxing, like baking, was an interest instilled in him at a young age. As a kid, he’d watch closed-circuit fights with his father at the Ritz Theatre in Ybor City. Then in 1967, at 22, thanks in large part to the tutelage of Tampa boxing manager Lou Viscusi, he formed Alessi Promotions.
It began with fights in Tampa every other week and later expanded throughout the state and to major U.S. cities.
In 1981, he and other promoters partnered with USA Network’s "Tuesday Night Fights." That led to promotions of boxing cards with ESPN and NBC.
Among the boxing memories he once shared with the Tampa Tribune were driving stock cars with Joe Frazier, promoting Marvin Hagler’s last victory, and working with Sylvester Stallone to produce a card in Atlantic City.
Mr. Alessi Sr. stepped away from boxing in 2000 to concentrate on the bakery. He later tried a comeback, but it lasted only two years. Since then, his focus was the bakery.
"Even when going through dialysis, he’d go seven days a week," Alessi Jr. said. "He loved the bakery. It was his family, and everyone will miss him."
Contact Paul Guzzo at [email protected] Follow @PGuzzoTimes.