Born in Sicily in 1938, Piero’s family moved to Rome when he was a teenager and this is where he began his illustrious career in the bakery industry. He first started in the hotel and catering industry as a commis chef, where he developed a passion for bakery and patisserie products. Piero went on to work as a pastry chef at various iconic and prestigious locations, including the Grand Hotel in Rome, before landing a job in Paris at The Ritz Hotel. In 1958 Piero moved to London, where he worked at The Savoy and The Waldorf Hotels as a patisserie chef.
It was in 1964 that his entrepreneurial streak shone through when he decided to open a bakery shop ‘Panificio Italiano’-‘The Italian Bakery’ in Trinity Road, Tooting Bec, South West London. Using the knowledge and skills he had already gained, he began to supply Italian and French restaurants with bakery and patisserie products – and so began the beginnings of the first bakery.
The business grew year-on-year and it was not before long that Piero was approached by Marks & Spencer (M&S), who asked him to produce a variety of speciality bread rolls as well as other artisanal bakery products. The business had soon outgrown its current site necessitating a relocation to new premises in Wembley. Piero continued to prosper with M&S, before going on to supply the likes of Tesco, Waitrose and other retail and food service companies. In 1990, Piero decided to bow out while at the top and he sold the business to Northern Foods after successfully growing the business to an impressive turnover of £55m per annum.
Piero stayed with Northern Foods for two-and-a-half years, before digressing into the arena of bakery machinery, but soon realised that this was not his forte or passion.
By 1998, after a brief retirement in Crans Montana, Switzerland, Piero came back to the UK and started Montana Bakery (from scratch) – an artisan and craft bakery located in Colnbrook near Heathrow Airport. This was not for financial reasons but because of his passion and as a creative baker who loves his work and baking wonderful and delicious bakery products.
Upon creating Montana, he was again approached by M&S, who were only too happy for him to create some new products for them, before again going on to supply Waitrose and Sainsbury’s amongst others, employing over 300 people in the process. A large part of the business was to also supply the foodservice industry as well as exporting to other countries including Holland and Ireland.
In 2016, Montana Bakery had a turnover of £60 million, and after a very enjoyable time creating a new business and watching it blossom and grow, Piero decided to sell again. The sale included the Les Artisan Boulangerie which specialised in laminated bakery products such as croissants and pain au chocolat. At the time, part of the group included a smaller artisan bakery, the Heathrow Bakery, once known as Adams Bakery based in Iver, near Slough. Heathrow Bakery, which specialised in bakery products for the airline and foodservice markets as well as the packaging of goods for these markets, was not part of this sale.
Therefore, after the sale, Piero, who was still not ready to hang up his boots, saw a further business opportunity, and purchased a site opposite the Heathrow Bakery site and began building the current bakery Panificio Italiano at the end of 2016. The Panificio Italiano bakery is a modern, state-of-the-art bakery measuring approximately 45,000 sq feet and is purpose-built to meet the requirements of today’s customer. The old Heathrow Bakery was closed down and the business transferred to the new site, and the trading name changed to Panificio Italiano – the very name with which all this started more than half a century ago.
Panificio Italiano manufactures products in a nut free environment and “handcrafts’’ but on an industrial scale, producing high-quality artisan bread products all of which are bespoke to each customer.
Panificio Italiano can supply either ambient or frozen products. With the installation of a large giro freezer, Panificio Italiano can ensure that supply and demand is maintained across both channels. Panificio Italiano’s current best sellers are sub rolls, brioche, mini rolls, ciabattas and continental inspired speciality breads. This is what Piero is known for, has a passion for and is an expert in.
Piero now at the age of 80, is a self-proclaimed workaholic and is still very much hands-on – he continues to do 12-hour shifts in the bakery as this is his passion. Piero is continually looking at product development and how to make things better for the consumer, customer and his team. His passion and creativity has never waned over his 62 years in the bakery industry and continues to grow.
Piero will also admit that he is far from finished with the bakery industry yet – and probably wouldn’t know what to do with himself if he wasn’t working! His aim has always been to look after his business as best he can and he knows he is lucky to have found a passion that he was able to turn into a successful career. His parting comment to many is more a motto for life: “If you find something you love doing, stick to it.”
The judges described Piero as an icon of the bakery industry and agreed that his passion for the industry and everything in it singled him out easily as the winner.
Piero at the time stated “It was a thrill and I felt very special and very privileged to have achieved that” although he was reticent to stand in the spotlight.