What’s the difference between an ordinary bakery and LaSalle? The bakery team! Beyond dedication and loyalty, each member exudes the culture that makes LaSalle…well, LaSalle.
Michael, Sr.: Owner
Michael, Sr. loves art. In fact, his life’s ambition had been to become an art teacher. But at 15 years old he got a job at LaSalle Bakery as a pan boy, just to earn some spending money. Soon after, Mr. DiMaria, the former owner of the bakery, taught Michael how to be a baker’s helper. He quickly realized, though, that it meant more to him than that. “I enjoyed working in the bakery because I liked the craft and art of baking, making things by hand, thinking creatively, and making things that people could enjoy.”
Michael worked at the bakery all through art school, still with the intention of becoming an art teacher upon graduation. And then one day his life changed forever. Mr. DiMaria sat Michael down and asked him to take over the bakery. “He must have seen something in me that told him I could be his successor, and that the business he built for 40 years would continue on.”
47 years ago, Michael never dreamt that he would one day own LaSalle Bakery. But he made the decision with his wife, Cheryl, to give up his dream of a teaching career and begin a career as a baker. “The bakery business was, and still is, a very demanding business, which requires many sacrifices and a great deal of dedication. We chose that path and went into it with our hearts and souls. Over the years, we developed a passion for the business, and that is evident to our customers when they come to us. When I look back at that life-changing decision, I know that I would make it again. It was the right move for us!”
On the rare occasion that you don’t see Michael’s face at the bakery, you can find him at his art class. After all these years, he still loves to paint.
Favorite LaSalle Treat: “There are too many to list! Lately I have been craving a cinnamon bun. They are absolutely delicious! An all-batter Danish dough rolled with cinnamon and raisins, glazed with vanilla-flavored fondant.”
Cheryl Manni: Owner
Cheryl’s story with the bakery began when she married Michael Manni, Sr. At the time, she was working as a secretary for the city of Providence and he was in school pursuing an art degree while working part-time at LaSalle Bakery. In 1975, just four years after their wedding, the owner of LaSalle asked Michael if he would be interested in purchasing the bakery. After much discussion amongst themselves, they decided to give it a try. They were 24 years old.
Cheryl smiles fondly as she reminisces about the uncertainty of making such a life-changing commitment: “That first year was probably the hardest year of my life. In one day I went from not knowing anything about the bakery business to being an owner and having people look to me for guidance when they placed their orders. Despite having no prior knowledge, Cheryl learned her way around the bakery very fast. “Believe me,” Cheryl laughs, “when it is your life and people are depending on you, it’s amazing how quickly you learn.”
As the years flew by, Cheryl and Michael were blessed with two sons, Michael Jr. and John. Even when the boys were young, Cheryl was able to dedicate six days per week to working at the bakery, thanks to the help of her mother-in-law Clara Manni. Cheryl understood even then that being part of the bakery business meant that holidays were for other people to enjoy. “We had our time together as a family on the down days. Our job – and our passion – was to help make holidays and occasions special for our customers, our friends,” Cheryl says.
While the early days were tough, Cheryl admits that it did get easier over the years as the bakery continued to grow and as she and Michael got older. They learned how to work smarter, they were able to buy new equipment and hire more employees, and most importantly, they spent a great deal of time educating themselves about new products and trends. They often traveled to bakeries across the country to learn best practices and discovered innovative ways to improve their own store.
“It has been 38 years now since we bought the bakery. With the introduction of technology, some of my ways are considered old-fashioned. Michael Jr. and John have become a big part of the business, and it’s time for Michael and I let go and let the boys take over. I am proud to say, though, that our values still stand strong. While technology has made some of our processes more efficient, the two things that haven’t changed are that our customers always come first and that we always treat our employees with respect.”
What’s the best thing about working at LaSalle? “One of my favorite thing about the bakery is being able to work with my two sons and my husband. It can be difficult some days, as with all families, but at the end of the day we love each other. Beyond that, though, I love the excitement at the bakery during the holidays, I love seeing all the customers I have met and become friendly with over the years and I love all of my co-workers, old and new. I feel very blessed to be where I am.”
Michael Manni, Jr.: Director of Operations
As the son of Michael and Chery Manni, owners of LaSalle Bakery, Michael, Jr. spent a lot of time hanging out at the bakery and absorbing the culture from the time he was young. Working there as a pan boy was a natural fit for him, and as he grew into a young man, he learned to appreciate the hard work and dedication that goes into baking. He loved the instant satisfaction of watching people enjoy a treat that he had just made.
While Michael, Jr. took a short break from being a LaSalle Bakery employee for a few years as he took full advantage of being a college student and explored other career options, by age 25 he could no longer deny his passion for LaSalle and the bakery business.
More than 10 years later, his enthusiasm for maintaining the unique culture at LaSalle and his desire to increase awareness for the bakery are stronger than ever. While the fresh desserts and breads don’t hurt, he credits LaSalle’s customers and employees for making the business what it is today. “The regular customers and employees are all like family. This friendly atmosphere is lost in so much of today’s society that our customers seem to really appreciate the atmosphere that they helped to create here. A lot of first time customers are shocked with the food, but more so with the way they feel when they are here. It’s all about them!” says Michael.
Michael also makes it a priority to actively collaborate with other bakeries and share best practices. “Most people don’t know this, but I grew up traveling with my parents visiting bakeries around the country.” Now, he sends LaSalle’s bakers and cake decorators to visit other bakeries, and these bakeries send their employees to visit LaSalle. Over the years, he has been able to implement much of what he’s learned to make LaSalle the best it can be.
What’s your favorite thing to eat that LaSalle makes? “Mascarpone Berry Tart, hands down. We only make it in the summer when berries are most fresh. For my wedding, my production manager surprised me with one – I was so excited, I could have eaten the whole thing, but I let my ushers try it and they devoured the rest!”
Mike D: Director of Production
When Mike started at LaSalle as a pan boy at the age of 15-years-old, he had other dreams and interests. While in college pursuing those dreams, he stopped by the bakery for a snack. It was during the Christmas season he describes, “I walked into the back room where all the bakers were, I said hello and watched them. Something just clicked. Watching Mike and the rest of the bakers work that day with such passion and love for what they were doing changed everything for me. This was what I wanted to be doing.”
Thirty-four years later, Mike oversees the pastry and baking production at both bakeries. As Mike Manni’s right hand man, he works with the team to address customer needs and keep all departments united. Most importantly, Mike is always trying to come up with something new and is described as his colleagues as “the mad scientist of pastry.”
Outside of the bakery you will find Mike with his wife Andrea and two sons, or on the fairway practicing his golf swing.
What’s the best thing about working at LaSalle? “Being able to watch a customer’s face light up when they pick up their birthday cake. It’s a great feeling.”
Joshua Christiansen: Manager of the Cake and Pastry Department, Head Cake Decorator
Joshua was born and raised in Massachusetts. Joshua has fond memories of learning to cook, cross stitching, and painting ceramics in the countless hours that he spent with his grandparents. Joshua attended Attleboro High School where he completed the Culinary Program and took as many art classes as he possibly could. Following graduation, Joshua worked in the bakery at a supermarket where he learned how to bake and decorate cakes. This is when his passion for cake decorating began. Although he moved to Florida and worked in a different industry for a few years, Josh missed cake decorating so much that he took cake-decorating classes in order to feed his desire to learn new skills. Joshua eventually moved back home and joined the LaSalle Bakery Family in 2011. Since that time Joshua has continued to perfect his cake decorating skills and yearns to continue learning something new everyday.
While decorating, Joshua always has an impeccable attention to detail and never says no to a challenge. In January of 2016, Joshua was promoted to be the Manager of the Cake Decorating and Pastry Operations at LaSalle Bakery. In his new role, Joshua loves coaching and teaching his coworkers so that they can reach their potential. One thing Josh definitely struggled with when he first started working at LaSalle Bakery was being at work until 4 am. Now he doesn’t mind it so much because when he is out of work, he can go to the beach and be home for dinner. Summer is his favorite season, but fall is a close second.
What’s your favorite thing to eat that LaSalle makes? “Spinach pie and the spinach croissant, YUM, I could eat those everyday. Thankfully I work out and have a fast metabolism, because I also love our Chocolate frosting.
Rob Gemma: Smith Street Production Manager
Rob was discovered by Mike Sr. in a market. He explains, “I was taking a semester off from URI and met Mike SR. in a market. He asked if I was working. I came in the next day and have been here ever since.” Twenty-seven years later, Rob is described by the LaSalle family as being loyal, dedicated and one of the hardest workers ever encountered. When it comes to baking, Rob brings a certain kind of mechanical aptitude to the table and has a great passion for his work. He is also noted by his colleagues as getting “very crafty when bringing new products to the table.”
Outside of LaSalle you will either find Rob around town with his wife and three boys, woodworking—especially wood turning—or enjoying the fine tradition of planting a garden.
Favorite LaSalle Treat: “Chicken bacon ranch calzone or a sfogliatelle.”
Lee Sufi: General Manager
At the ripe old age of 16, Lee was a quiet neighborhood kid that loved going into the bakery. When he applied to work at LaSalle’s they weren’t hiring, so he proceeded to pester Cheryl 3-5 times a week until he got an interview and was hired on the spot. Lee reminisces, “My first shift was with John, Bobby, and Sean; right off the bat I was like these guys are crazy! They broke me out of my shell pretty fast I knew it was going to be a great job!” Lee continued his part-time position at the bakery throughout High School and College. Then one day, Mike Jr. asked if he was interested in taking a serious role as a General Manager.
Fourteen years later, Lee has taken many business classes and devoted his life to LaSalle bakery and Retail sales—he even has the LaSalle logo tattooed on his arm! As the champion of culture at LaSalle Bakery, Lee works to maintain an atmosphere that is both positive and fun. Lee explains, “Our customers play a huge role in our culture. We have so many regular customers we are on a first-name basis with, and as for new customers they are just friends we haven’t met yet.” As the General Manager, Lee manages both bakeries and is in charge of the sales department. His colleagues describe him as a “real people’s people.”
When Lee isn’t at LaSalle’s, you’ll likely find him talking to friends and family about the bakery (he is a fanatic). He is also an avid soccer player and loves sports; particularly the Syracuse Orangemen, Manchester United, NY Mets, New England Patriots and the Boston Bruins—did we mention he likes sports?
Favorite LaSalle Treat: “I would have to say a Chocolate Chip Cannoli. When I was 15-years-old my Mom would give me money to buy a cannoli for an after dinner treat, but I would actually buy 2…and secretly eat one while walking home. I guess that’s my cannoli confession mom.”