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Innovative local bakery supplies Blue Room with popular treats

LaSalle Bakery sits on the corner of River and Admiral Streets in the Elmhurst neighborhood of Providence. Its orange walls match the Halloween decorations of spiders, ghosts and pumpkins hanging from its ceiling. Upon entering the bakery, customers are drawn to the boards that read "European Croissants, Breakfast Sandwiches, Cakes for all Occasions, Fresh All Natural Dog Bones" in white chalk along the walls. The smell of freshly baked bread wafts from the shelves right next to the cheese pizza behind the counter.

As on any other day at the bakery, the tables are occupied by groups of all ages: the young, the old and everyone in between, enjoying rich pastries and one another's company.

This is not LaSalle's only location. The bakery also has a store on Smith Street in Providence.

Cheryl Manni and her husband Michael run the bakery together.

A Blue Room favorite

The bakery provides the breakfast pastries that are available in the Blue Room every day, with a selection of croissants, scones, fruit tarts and muffins of all different flavors.

"I usually order muffins. My favorite is pistachio, although other people find it strange," Jorge Tamames '14 said.

Brown discovered LaSalle "through word of mouth," Manni said. "I think there was someone working at Brown who came here. He might've just mentioned he loves coming here."

But this bakery wasn't the only one competing for top billing at the Blue Room.

"The Blue Room menu development team, which was led by Dining Services' Executive Chef and included students, evaluated the offerings of several area bakeries," Jacques Larue, director of retail dining, wrote in an e-mail to The Herald.

"We brought in a bunch of breakfast goods," Manni said.

From Manni's samples, Brown picked the ones they wanted to serve at the Blue Room.

"LaSalle was the hands-down favorite and determined to have a superior product line on the basis of product quality, presentation and taste. Being local and meeting the guidelines of the Real Food initiative were also among the key selection criteria," Larue wrote.

Carrying the name

This November will mark the 35th anniversary of the Mannis' purchase of LaSalle.

"My husband worked here as a pan boy on Smith Street," Manni said. "He lived right behind the bakery. He washed pans with his hands. That's how they used to do it in the old days. That's how he started, when he was 15 years old."

The Mannis ultimately purchased the business in 1975, when Cheryl was 24 and Michael was 25.

"When the owner got sick, he asked Michael to buy it. My husband used his creativity in the bakery. In the bakery you're always staying on top of things. There's never a dull moment," Manni said.

The name LaSalle was inspired by the bakery's surroundings.

"On Smith Street, there was a LaSalle pharmacy, LaSalle tailors and a bunch of other stores with LaSalle in their names. That's why the bakery's called LaSalle. We're also across the street from La Salle Academy. We just carried the name," Manni said.

Innovation meets tradition

Under the Mannis' direction, the bakery's offerings have expanded over the years.

"We kind of advanced into a little more of a cafe to keep up with the times. You have to be something for everybody," she said.

LaSalle makes sandwiches, pizza, muffins, croissants, tiramisu, paninis, cupcakes, cakes, fruit tarts, salads and soups-to-go, as well as many other goods daily. "We have people trained that make them fresh everyday," Manni said.

The bakery also offers various kinds of coffee flavors such as tiramisu, banana hazelnut, snicker doodle and pumpkin spice, among others.

 "The only things we don't sell are doughnuts," Manni said.

Innovation is one of the owners' top priorities at LaSalle. New items are regularly introduced to customers, and the bakery has a committee specifically focused on developing new baking ideas.

"Usually the bakers have meetings along with my husband, Michael. They'll think of something new. They brainstorm together. They read a lot of bakery magazines. They also go to a lot of conventions," she said. "We're always trying to keep creative to keep people interested."

The bakery also has a five-member committee devoted to decorating its baked goods.

"We basically do birthday cakes and standard types of cakes. On weekends, we do wedding cakes and something that requires more work," Manni said.

There are two really busy times of the year for LaSalle: Christmas and St. Joseph's Day. Manni said the bakery is also busy on holidays such as Easter and Thanksgiving.

But the bakery is booming with business everyday and working hours are extensive.

"Smith Street starts at 3 a.m. This store starts at 1 a.m. … because we do the breads here. We close at 7 p.m. here and at 8 p.m. at the Smith Street store. So we're basically almost open most of the day," Manni said.

 The bakery's early hours explain the warmth of the pastries first thing in the morning at the Blue Room.

"The bakers come into work at three in the morning to start baking everything. They have to come in early in order to get it out early for Brown," she said.

The bakery provides pastries for other businesses, but wholesale is not a big part of what the business does, Manni said.

"We're really particular. We make sure it goes to good people. We do a lot of sampling," she said.

All in the family

LaSalle Bakery is a favorite to many locals. Even the Democratic candidate for mayor, Angel Taveras, has a favorite: LaSalle's chocolate pudding cake, said Manni.

"Our croissants are very popular. We sell a lot of ham and cheese and spinach and feta croissants –– sandwiches, too," she said.

The local favorite is the Italian ham sandwich, which includes roasted peppers and fresh mozzarella, Manni said.

She added that the bakery also sells many calzones and muffins.

"Every day is different … you can come in here at 10 a.m. and not find any muffins, and on another day you can come in and everyone wants calzones," she said.

As for her own favorite, Manni said she likes "anything chocolate."

Manni said she considers LaSalle a neighborhood bakery, one that has customers with familiar faces.

"Over the years, I've seen people grow up and bring their children in," she said.

Manni said the family atmosphere continues to inspire the bakery, because it is a family-run business — the Mannis' sons work there.

With the success of the bakery's two locations, the Mannis are currently in the process of looking to open a third store.

"It's locations, locations, locations. This summer we checked a few places," she said. "In the future, there may be one or two more openings."

But Manni said that there are still a lot of things to think about before the opening of the third store.

"Whatever we're doing, we're doing it right," Manni said. "Because our customers keep coming in, we're making them happy. As long as they're happy, we're successful."


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