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From Wall Street To McAllister Alley: The Story Of Gemelli Bakers

On Thursday mornings, you can find Tony Sapia walking down the steps of the Cheese Shoppe on Calder Way carrying several containers of lasagna, a few slices of pizza, and some soup — all of which were made from scratch the night before.

Sapia does this not because he wants to get rid of the leftovers in his fridge, but because one of his favorite hobbies is preparing gourmet food and later sharing it with his friends and fellow locals. Plus, he hasn’t yet mastered the ability to cook for anything less than an army.

“I don’t know how to cook for one, so I cook for multiple,” Sapia said. “If I make chicken salad, I make a pint for myself and a few pints for [my friends]. When I make lasagna, I make a whole tray.”

For this reason, it’s not hard to believe that Sapia also spends his days operating a wholesale artisan bakery, feeding the people in the same borough where he was born and raised — or born and “bread,” as he likes to call it.

Tucked away in a tiny lane on McAllister Alley downtown, Sapia’s business is better known as “Gemelli Bakers.” But, the vibrant green letters on the store’s front window spell out more than just a name. In fact, “gemelli” translates to “twins” in Italian — which holds a special place in Sapia’s heart considering he’s the father of twin boys.

With the values of family and love in mind, Sapia and his team of bakers have worked hard since 2007 to provide a wide array of breads, baguettes, pastries, and other baked goods to a steady following of loyal customers.

These treats range from Gemelli’s signature ciabatta and sourdough loaves to fresh doughnuts on Saturday mornings; from pretzel rolls and croissants to bagels, bialys, focaccia, pastry turnovers, and pies.

“I always say do what you love, love what you do,” Sapia said while sporting a green Gemelli Baker’s “Toast of the Town” shirt and sipping a cup of coffee. “[The bakery] allows me the opportunity to share something that I love doing and making with a community that I love.”

In finding that passion and love for baking, however, Sapia took a path that was far from linear. Simply put, bread wasn’t always part of his plan.

His journey is one that entails numerous cities, jobs, and people — all of which transpired to create the perfect recipe for his career as a small business owner and professional baker.

Initially, Sapia ventured from a military high school in Texas to Cornell University. There, he pursued a degree in hospitality and hotel administration, with a concentration in real estate and finance. He also had the opportunity to spend his junior year dabbling in the restaurant industry at a Flamingo Hilton in Las Vegas.

With an Ivy League education in his back pocket, Sapia did what most finance graduates do after college. He went to work on Wall Street in 1992 and wasted little time finding employment. Ultimately, though, the State College native discovered that the home of the New York stock exchange wasn’t for him.

“I had to get out of the rat race in Manhattan,” Sapia said. “I wanted to travel the world.”

Sapia would later bring those dreams to fruition, but not before making a pit stop at the Culinary Institute of America and enrolling in a 20-week program called the “Pro-Chef Series.” This course was designed for individuals who had some background and experience in the food industry and wanted to further develop their skills related to the nuts and bolts of cooking. Sapia checked off those boxes — thanks to the time he spent in Las Vegas — and used this program to launch a career in the culinary world.

In the six months after leaving Hyde Park, he hopped from one restaurant to another and served on the opening team for several microbreweries. He said this experience taught him a lot about himself, as well as about the power and impact of preparing good food.

“I learned that food is the cornerstone to great hospitality, and when coupled with guests, leads to a convivial experience,” Sapia said.

Later, he decided to take a page out of his grandmother’s book — a woman that was once an immigrant from Sicily and entered America through the port of New Orleans. He wanted to retrace her steps but in the reverse direction.

Sapia spent an entire season, a time period spanning from Christmas to Mother’s Day, working at various restaurants in New Orleans. Afterward, he bought a plane ticket to Florence and spent the next 18 months learning the language and food.

He landed gigs at places like Cordon Bleu Scuola D’Arte, a cooking school in Florence operated by two women out of the comfort of their own home, and a pizzeria in Crema. There was also a pizza organization (a society consisting of pizza makers, educators, and suppliers) that was starting up in Bologna, which Sapia eagerly joined. This gave him the opportunity to learn from the number one pizza maker in Italy at the time, Antonio Conte from Naples.

When he returned home, Sapia picked up right where he left off. He opened a cocktail bar in downtown State College in July of 1997 and eventually expanded the space to include a nightclub upstairs. But it wasn’t until several years later when things truly started to fall in place for his career as a baker.

“I had always baked my own bread. But in 2001, my wife was at Tait Farm, and the manager of the harvest shop asked her about the sandwich she was eating,” Sapia said.

That infamous sandwich just so happened to be held together by two slices of Sapia’s homemade bread.

Following this interaction, the ex-Wall Street banker found himself busily preparing 40 loaves of bread for that Friday’s harvest shop, which, to his surprise, immediately sold out. Before he knew it, this sort of thing became a routine task on Tuesdays and Fridays. Ultimately, it paved the way for the creation of Gemelli Bakers.

Fast forward to 2021, Sapia now proudly operates a successful business of wholesaling bread, whether it’s from the cozy, welcoming retail shop on McAllister Alley or at one of the local farmer’s markets in Centre County.

He says he does this using a 12-step process, but quickly corrects himself and changes the number to 13. The final step, eating, is one of the most important. Why? Sapia truly cares about the quality of the product he shares with the community.

“We use natural methods of fermentation, so we don’t use commercial yeast,” Sapia said. “What that allows us to do is control the tempo of the baking process. It also allows us to develop flavor, instead of our breads having a sour [taste], and the natural sweetness of the grains come out.

The baking itself takes place at 1341 S. Atherton Street in a building located behind Talbots that was constructed by Sapia’s father in 1993. There, you can find all of the ovens and kitchen equipment, as well as the raw ingredients necessary to make the many versatile loaves of bread.

Meanwhile, the downtown shop on McAllister Alley, which was also built by Sapia’s father, but in 1973, operates strictly as a cold, retail site.

"This bakery allows me the opportunity to share something that I love doing and making with a community that I love."

Together, the two separate locations combine to achieve a single purpose. Sapia can bake something he loves, in the town that he loves, for the people that he loves.

“It allows me to interact with the community in a special way and it’s really cool putting food on folks’ tables that they share with their families,” Sapia said. “It enriches their commitments to the community.”

“When they say [bread is the] staff of life, that’s exactly what it is,” Sapia continued. “But really, it’s [also] the crust and crumb that holds the community together, whether it’s family, whether it’s the neighborhood, or even just the restaurants downtown.”

Gemelli Bakers’ retail shop on McAllister Alley is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday. You can also find its baked goods at the Boalsburg Farmer’s Market on Tuesdays and the North Atherton Farmer’s Market on Saturdays.

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About the Author

Rory Pelella

Rory is a senior from Binghamton, New York majoring in Spanish and journalism. She's been bleeding blue and white ever since her older siblings decided to create a family dynasty in Happy Valley in 2006. So, as you can imagine, she loves absolutely everything Penn State (especially the Cheese Shoppe downtown). She's also a die-hard Yankees, Knicks, and Giants fan (it's brutal), and would do anything for a good old fashioned New York slice. Feel free to email her at [email protected] or follow her on twitter @rorypelella.

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