[Update: A previous version of this story misstated the number of years Baffo Enterprises has been in business and its hours of operation. We regret the error.]
18556 Fort St., Riverview
Open Monday through Thursday, from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Michael Rastelli recalls the time his family decided to close their pizza place in Roseville and open a new shop in Downriver near their home. The question on his mind — one that every business owner eventually arrives at — was this: What do we name it?
It was the early 1990s, and the brother of his wife, Cristina, had just flown home to Italy. Rastelli says his brother-in-law — an apparent power lifting, bocce-playing man with a strong build and a giant baffo mustache — called to say he made it home safely.
Rastelli says the family crowded around the phone, then someone asked, “Who is it? Who is it?” One of his children blurted out, “It’s Baffo!”
It certainly had a ring to it — and it stuck. The name of their new shop would be Baffo.
For the last 21 years, Baffo Enterprises has been selling its brand of roll-type sandwiches in a small bakery on Fort Street in Riverview. With a dozen employees, the company produces 2,000 to 3,000 sandwiches per day, distributing product across Michigan and into Ohio and West Virginia. Rastelli, 60, says they’ve maintained agreements with Kroger and 7-Eleven to stock their products for years.
With that kind of presence, it’s perhaps a surprise to see the operation is contained inside a small storefront of a strip mall.
“That’s what everyone says!” says Cristina Rastelli.
It hasn’t always been the easiest ride, though; the economic downturn in 2008 brought down numerous businesses nearby, the family says.
But with an emphasis on customer service and quality, the family has been able to maintain the business, says Rastelli’s son Stefano Raimonda.
“Quality, man — that’s what’s kept us around for 30 years,” says Raimonda, 46.
The family proudly boasts its credentials as a United States Department of Agriculture-inspected and -certified facility, something few bakeries across the country can say, says Marino Rastelli.
With that comes an added level of scrutiny on a daily basis. The first employees arrive by 5:30 a.m. to open the shop. Then, around 6 a.m., a USDA inspector arrives to ensure the facility checks out before the daily grind begins.
It’s worth it, Raimonda says.
“We’re very conscientious about what we do,” he says, adding, “We will not cut corners on quality.”
Michael Rastelli says the family has tested a number of sandwiches before, but the Baffo product line has typically contained a stable cast of 16 variations, including pepperoni and cheese; pepperoni, jalapeno, and cheese; steak and cheese; and more. The ingredients are housed in a roll based on a family bread recipe first produced by Michael and Cristina’s great-grandparents in northern Italy. And for 20 years, they’ve banked on the same “buy four, get one free” special to entice customers who visit the bakery for a meal.
While the bakery maintains a clean image, it does have its share of unusual characteristics, such as Baffo oven, a two-decades old colossal machine from Italy. It stands about 6 feet high, large enough to comfortably house an average-sized journalist standing up. Raimonda says although the family got a nice deal when it was purchased, it’s occasionally a hassle, as the upkeep has become more difficult over time. There’s no replacement parts readily available for a baking relic from Europe.
“If I was to do it over again, I wouldn’t buy it,” Raimonda says with a laugh.
The family also takes pride in its efforts with American soldiers serving overseas. For years now, they’ve matched each case of product purchased for troops abroad. The walls of the bakery’s lobby are littered with photos of men and women in the armed forces sporting their favorite Baffo sandwich.
“We have more,” Raimonda says. “We just don’t have the room for it.”
As a mom-and-pop shop, Raimonda says the Baffo family has been a staple of the community, and he’s been able to watch numerous nearby residents age over time, those who return time and time again for their favorite sandwich. He says if it’s not the rolls that bring people back, it’s likely their customer service and work ethic, the latter of which his mother Cristina can attest to.
Ever since the shop opened, she can be found in the back, working each day from open to close, Raimonda says, never once relenting the family’s call for her to take it easy every once in awhile.
“It’s in her blood,” says Marino Rastelli.
Asked why she still enjoys working days sometimes as long as 12 hours, Cristina Rastelli says with a smile, “I can’t give it up.”