Location: Mancini’s Bread Company, 1717 Penn Ave. in the Strip District
Featured guest: Nick Mancini Hartner, great-nephew of Mancini’s founder James Mancini, and owner of the Strip District location
3 things that surprised me:
1. James Mancini opened his one-room bakery in McKees Rocks in 1926. His little brother Ernest joined him a few years later. Ernest’s daughter, Mary, took over the bakery in 1977 and Nick (Mary’s son) got involved in 2000. Though they’ve added some items to the menu, most of their recipes haven’t changed at all since the bakery was established.
2. Mancini’s Original Italian Twist loaves didn’t get their signature twist for decoration — it’s all practical. If you’re slicing up bread, a rustic tapered loaf will create slices of all sizes — that makes it difficult if you’re trying to make sandwiches. A twisted loaf cuts into more uniform slices. The one-strand twist also lends the dough a structural integrity which allows you to bake the loaf without putting it in a pan.
3. Nick hadn’t planned on joining the family business. He studied bioengineering and imagined he’d find a career in that field. When he found himself at home one summer, his mom asked if he’d help out at the bakery for a bit and he never left.
One thing that didn’t make the final cut: Nick explained that when he initially started, the company was baking all the bread at their McKees Rock facility in old hearth brick ovens. Those ovens had a lot of quirks including tons of “hot spots” where the bread was prone to getting crispy. But the team of veteran bakers at Mancini’s knew those ovens by heart. After loading them up with 144 loaves, they would use a 16-foot peel to rotate loaves in and out of those hot spot so none of the bread would burn. “You can’t teach that,” Nick added, thankful that their newer ovens are able to bake the bread more uniformly.