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Monday, March 13, 2000
2000 Small Business profiles

Borracchini's Bakery

by Deidre Silva
Special to The Seattle Times

The words Remo Borracchini uses when talking about his Seattle bakery are more like those used by a romance novelist than those of a businessman.

Terms such as "passion," "desire" and "love" flow easily as he describes the choices that left him in charge of a business his father started in the basement of his family's home 75 years ago.

At age 5, Borracchini was helping his father bake and deliver bread to houses and farms in the surrounding area. By his teens, the desire to follow in his father's footsteps was so strong that he dropped out of high school for baking.

"My father sat on the front porch and cried for three days," Borracchini said. "He wanted me to go to college, but I loved the bakery."

In the decades since, Borracchini and the business have come a long way.

Fifty employees now operate his flagship Rainier Avenue South bakery, deli and Italian market as well as a small outpost on California Avenue Southwest in West Seattle. He says he doesn't divulge his business's sales and profit figures.

His signage, a modern reminder of when the area at the base of Beacon Hill was known as "Garlic Gulch" for its large Italian-American population, is an illuminated rotating Italian flag with daily specials announced on the marquee.

Though Borracchini's accent and animated hand gestures are hallmarks of the "old school" Italian guard, his business acumen is anything but "old-school."

Constantly re-evaluating the service he provides, he credits the bakery's longevity to customer service, foresight and a willingness to adapt.

When Borracchini, now 70, took over his father's business in 1965, he immediately added a third floor that now houses the production department. Soon after, he expanded the store's product line to include groceries and a delicatessen.

"I always planned on constantly upgrading the business," Borracchini said, adding that much of its success is also because he keeps abreast of changes in the industry by attending baking conventions and incorporating new ideas into his business's identity.

Often, "staying current" was as simple as offering the latest products such as big cookies, oversized muffins and croissants. Other times, he concedes, he was caught behind the curve.

"People were telling me for 15 years to sell espresso," he said. He resisted the idea because he thought people drank espresso only in Italy. "Now, we sell over 200 cups a day."

Along with an ability to change, Borracchini said, the biggest opportunity for small businesses is to offer outstanding service.

"Big business can compete for convenience but not with service," he said.

Though "service" is a good goal for a small business, even Borracchini said that it would get an owner only so far.

"Owning a small business isn't just about being an entrepreneur," he said. "You better be the brains, because you can't afford to hire the brains."

Borracchini, whose last vacation was three years ago, said owners must be ready to work hard and, perhaps more important, be "driven" to ensure that the business succeeds.

"You must have passion," he said, clenching his fists and leaning forward for emphasis. "You must love what you are doing or you'll never be good at it. You can't envy anyone else."

Borracchini's life and work are indistinguishable -- and he wouldn't have it any other way.

When he and Betty, his wife of 44 years, escape to their Camano Island house, Borracchini fills the hours baking bread and pastries for his neighbors.

"My grandfather worked until he was 97, so I still have at least another 27 years to go," he said. "And then I'll probably go part time so I'll still beat him."

Borracchini dismisses talk of retirement, but he says his two daughters will eventually take over ownership of the business.

His wife has another concern about the possibility of retirement: "What would I do with him?" she asked.

Deidre Silva is a Seattle free-lance writer.


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