It’s getting harder and harder to find true traditions anymore, but Allocco’s Italian Bakery in Cambria is rising to the occasion.
Phyllis Simeone yearned for the traditional Italian pretzels known as “taralli” that her mother had made for her as a kid. She started baking the crunchy oval snacks at home, and within three years found herself not only a full-time baker but also the owner of a wholesale gourmet food business.
As the taralli continued to find fans, Simeone’s husband, Bob, joined her in the business, and the couple moved Allocco’s to Cambria in October 1989. They added more pretzel flavors, and began selling them at local farmers’ markets. Eventually, they also opened a retail space — now on Main Street between the East and West Villages. Somewhere along the way, Allocco’s quietly established itself as “the only taralli baker in the Western United States,” Simeone claimed.
The expanded exposure of the retail bakery also allowed Simeone to introduce more and more of her mother’s truly authentic recipes. Among those are focaccia breads, biscotti, cannoli (a fried, tube-shaped, filled pastry), pizzelles (a thin waffle cookie), and about 12 different flavors of tiny, round, traditional Italian cookies.
Like most bakeries, the whole process starts when most people are fast asleep, in Allocco’s case at about 1 a.m. In addition to the Italian specialties, the bakery also makes a considerable amount of American pastries that are sold at farmers’ markets and to local hotels for continental breakfasts.
At its heart, however, Allocco’s is really about the Italian products because “you just can’t get these things in most bakeries,” said Simeone. “We’re really a specialty bakery, an ethnic bakery.” That commitment to tradition includes using high-quality ingredients, as well as doing things like using both the anise seeds and oil in Allocco’s anise-flavored items to impart a very time-honored taste.
“That (licorice) flavor is an acquired taste for most people,” she said, “but it’s one that you grew up with if you grew up Italian.”
She says that while the business is “a labor of love with a little bit of insanity added, I love talking to the people that come in here — from all over the world — that say, ‘Oh, my grandma or my aunt used to make these for me when I was a little kid.’ Or sometimes, even though someone doesn’t have an ounce of Italian blood in them, they lived next door as a kid to someone Italian that made these recipes.”
“Really, we’re a nostalgia bakery trying to keep the flavors of a traditional Italian kitchen alive,” Simeone said. “It brings a little bit of home, a little bit of Italy to the coast, and my whole goal is to keep that alive, something that’s otherwise slowly fading away.”