You could say that Master Baker Dean Chiotti knows baking. While this is a true statement, it is also a vast understatement. Baking is what his family has done for generations – nine generations to be exact.
“I love it,” says 70-year-old Chiotti. “It’s what we do,” he adds with a shrug of modesty.
Dean’s family dates back to 1687 in the Piemonte region of Italy, with Michelangelo Dompe. It is still recorded in the church records that Dompe’s weekly tithing was five loaves of bread and one kilo of flour.
To this day, there are still Dompe family members running a successful bakery in Brossassco, a town just on the other side of the hill from where the very first bakery originated.
In 1903, Michelangelo’s daughter Marcella Dompe (Dean’s grandmother) married a baker, Joe Chiotti, who was working for her father. The newlyweds were gifted passage to America. Marcella’s cousin Alessio was in Portland, Oregon and happened to be acting president of the French Baking Company at 607 SW 6th Avenue in downtown Portland.
When Marcella and Joe arrived, they joined forces with Alessio and opened the New French Bakery at SE Hawthorne and Grand Avenue on the east side of the city.
When asked why they opened French bakeries, Chiotti explained, “Simple; in the early 1900’s Italians were discriminated against. They were met with racial prejudice. Thus, using a French name made sense for business.”
The business boomed! And though they named themselves the French Baking Co., they were one of the only bakeries in Portland to serve freshly made Panettone at the holidays.
In 1970, Dean was a young man just out of the service. He and two of his cousins decided to open their own bakery and became owners of Pierre’s French Bakery. Pierre’s was the newly evolved version of the French Baking Co. that Dean’s grandparents had opened in the early 1900’s. Pierre’s established itself as an exemplary baking company, supplying breads to many of the area’s finest restaurants. They worked hard over the years and deservedly became an iconic Portland establishment.
With time came change, and in 1992 Pierre’s merged with Gais Bakery of Seattle. Gais then merged with Franz. One of the old Pierre’s locations on NE 10th and Oak Street is now a Franz distribution warehouse. Pierre’s French Bakery was no longer.
Dean Chiotti has many fond memories of growing up in and around his family’s bakery.
“I got to go in during the evenings when I was a young boy and tape boxes together for the deliveries of the bread,” he smiles. “I also remember a time there was a fire in 1951, and Fred Meyer himself offered to let our family use his bakery until we were able to rebuild. He even had rooftop parking.” Fred Meyer went to school with some of Dean’s family and they were all friends. They had grown up in SW Portland together and they simply helped each other out.
The years passed without Pierre’s, but Dean Chiotti could not get baking out of his blood. In 2002, with his partner, Rita Boyd, and his granddaughter, Sarah Willett, Dean decided to give it another go. The Alessio Baking Company was born in the old SE Portland Italian neighborhood.
When asked how he came up with the name, Alessio, Dean explained, “I have a granddaughter named Alessandra and my dad’s middle name was Alessio.”
“Actually,” he added, “There were several people in the family named Alessio. We started over from scratch. There was nothing from Pierre’s left. My granddaughter, Sarah is now training to take over the business.”
Currently, Alessio Baking Company is going strong. Dean is proud of the bakery’s vast array of handcrafted preservative-free products, including specialty breads such as ciabatta, focaccia, crusty long rolls, and grissini, which are made stirati a mano – stretched by hand – the same way they have always been made in Italy. Customers are also encouraged to place special orders for family dinners and celebrations.
Just as Pierre’s once did, Alessio Baking Company now provides beautiful hearth-style breads and baked goods for some of Portland’s finest eating establishments as well as with several food carts around the city. The bakery is located at 2025 SE 11th Avenue in the old southeast Portland Italian neighborhood.
For more information, contact Dean or Sarah at www.alessiobakingcompany.com