Places that Matter

Ferrara Bakery and Cafe

Ferrara Bakery and Cafe, photo by Elena Martinez
Ferrara Bakery and Cafe, photo by Elena Martinez
Heaven in the Heart of Little Italy
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Place Matters Profile

Antonio Ferrara was both a businessman and an active community leader, his name appearing frequently throughout pages of Italian dailies.  In 1892, he opened his café, Caffé A. Ferrara, at 195 Grand Street so that after theatre or the opera, he and his friends, the artisi, could relax over coffee and play the card game, skopa.  Little Italy has always drawn celebrities and Enrico Caruso was one of the earliest.  Caruso’s friendships in Little Italy included the Sisca family and banker Angela Legniti of Mulberry Street, and entertainers in Little Italy's music halls and nightclubs, such as Farfariello and Guglielmo Ricciardi, whose shows Caruso always enjoyed.  Caruso thought the coffee at Ferrara’s marvelous but especially loved the cookies and cakes.

Many bakers who started at Ferrara's went on to start their own bakeries in later years. Former partner Enrico Scoppa and Nicola Alba each opened their pastry shops in Brooklyn.

Antonio Ferrara's nephew Pietro Lepore (above, left, in the 1950s), also from Avellineo, arrived in New York in 1930. He had stowed away as a clown on a ship carrying a circus troupe to New York and jumped ship.  He went to work for his uncle and in 1932 married Ida, the daughter of Ferrara's partner, Enrico Scoppa. At the beginning of the 20th century, living quarters were above the store, but eventually the store offered the upstairs for meetings.

After Ferrara's death in 1937, Lepore bought out Enrico's interest and assumed control of the business. Before World War II, his strategic purchase of sugar protected the company during rationing. Lepore started shipping the non-perishable torrone during the war, resulting in todays' successful mail-order division.  Ferrara Café became known for its torrone, the traditional Italian nougat candy. A baker pours large amounts of whole almonds and filberts, while a huge mixing machine blends the nougat candy ingredients.  Whole nuts are used rather than chopped nuts because the entirety of the nut is what retains the flavor. This method of making Italian nougat candy is a time-honored style that is practiced in and brought over from the region of Benevento.  Since there is no dairy in the candy, it packages and ships easily. For this reason, during World War II, many Italian-American soldiers overseas received torrone from their families at home via Ferrara's. At the store, you still see torrone packaged and ready for consumption.

Baseball legend Phil Rizzuto, the "Little Scooter", was the voice of the "Holy Cannoli" radio advertising campaign, which Lepore organized. It promised "Heaven in the Heart of Little Italy.” The Lepore family business is now in its fourth generation.