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Chronicles: Tenors and Tiramisu at Ferrara’s Cafe & Bakery

Antonio Ferrara & His Namesake Cafe
With the constant re-vamping of New York City and the bleeding over of neighborhoods into the next (“East Williamsburg,” anyone?), few places have held strong to their traditional roots. In that small subset of Old New York institutions that rages against the dying of the old ways is Ferrara’s Bakery & Cafe, a spot where espresso snobs’ and sugar addicts’ dreams are made and devotees of the “Holy Cannoli” come to worship.

Yes, Little Italy is overrun with the tourists being hawked at in an enclave that is literally being imperialized by China(town), but the Ferrara’s proverbial Italian grandmother shakes her head and wags a gnarled finger at naysayers- the lady isn’t going anywhere. And why should she? Ferrara’s Bakery and Cafe is a living testament to the plight, bond and eventual success of Italian-Americans in New York. And while the Ferraras are now scattered through out the suburbs as well as the city, their business remains an affair in which all the relatives are involved in some way.

The story behind the opening of the oldest paticceria in the U.S. in 1892 is one of music-loving immigrants searching for place to sit, have an espresso and socialize after a night of listening to operatic masters, Verdi and Puccini. The void of having a common gathering place was especially felt because most of the Lower Manhattan tenements lacked real kitchens and public spaces–a difficult concept to immigrants from a communal, agrarian society.

Antonio Ferrara, an opera impresario and showman, and Enrico Scoppa, both from Naples, found their solution in Caffe A. Ferrara’s, a business based on community and the finest coffee this side of the Atlantic. A home grown reputation, along with Antonio’s theater ties, is what allowed Ferrara’s to host repeat sessions by world-renowned tenor Enrico Caruso…Well, that and the pignoli and sfoliatelli they baked daily. (Visit Caruso’s namesake museum in Brooklyn for more information about him and his work.)

Ferrara’s has prevailed as a downtown institution, caffeinating new arrivals and feeding sweets to the Italian-Americans the place was originally meant to serve. Annamaria Lepore, a third-generation family member has called Ferrara’s ” a dinosaur” but a family of “survivors,” as are the still-used recipes they brought over from southern Italy. An impressive feat for a family from a population that had once been dismissed and pushed into tenements during the turn of the 20th century–some of whom just wanted to listen to music.

Ferrara’s Bakery and Cafe
195 Grand Street, New York, NY‎ – (212) 226-6150‎

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