After 94 years, the Wayland Bakery has passed away. Their last day, at the end of December, was somewhere between a wake and a shiva except people were leaving with food instead of bringing it…and there was no alcohol. A line of customers stretched out the door for most of the day with a loyal following buying everything in sight and sharing stories and a lifetime of memories.
Fortunately, you will still be able to get Wayland Bakery goods at their other bakery, Zaccagnini’s Pastry Shoppe on Smithfield Avenue in Pawtucket. In Rhode Islandese, this still constitutes a short “trip” out of town, but on the plus side, you’ll be able to buy an extra treat or two for the ride home.
Generations of Rhode Islanders of all ages have celebrated their birthdays with Wayland Bakery’s iconic cakes, even on non-birthday occasions. We had a chance to chat with some of the customers who were lined up to say goodbye and make their farewell purchases at this location.
“I know it’s really my birthday when they bring out my Wayland Bakery cake,” offered an older patron, “but at my age, with smoke detectors and fire alarms, I only get one candle per decade!”
And for the record, their white cake with white frosting and flowers was even more popular than their chocolate cake.
“I grew up in Cranston,” chimed another waiting customer. “Cookies from the Wayland Bakery were the only way my mom could bribe us to behave as we drove into the square to see Dr. Orson.”
And then there’s the famous cupcakes. “I grew up in a big family,” another woman offered, “and my mother used to bring home cupcakes with different colored frosting. After several years of wild fights over who got what color, she gave up and only bought cupcakes with white frosting. It wasn’t until we were all older that she let it slip that she was the one who preferred the white frosting!”
Times were different when Wayland Bakery opened in 1928 on Wayland Avenue, closer to the square and next to where women’s clothing store Dorothy Williams used to be located. Providence was an exciting place to be in that year, nearing its peak population of 268,000, with the eagerly awaited Industrial Trust Co. Building (AKA The Superman Building) being completed downtown.
Even older than Wayland Bakery, D. Palmieri’s (1905) in Johnston and Scialo Bros Bakery (1916) on Federal Hill still remain. Also in 1928, Yankee Doodles were created in the Yankee Cake Company in Providence, which later merged with Drake Bakeries.
Ponfilo “Ponpie” Basilico bought Wayland Bakery in 1957 and then in 1960 built his own building with its iconic lighted sign. Anthony “Buzz” Basilico joined his father in the business in 1979.
In 1999, Luis Rodriguez, who had learned the baking business at The Daily Bread, and his wife Elizabeth acquired the bakery and expanded both the retail and commercial parts of the business. They carried on the tradition of high quality and excellent customer service that enabled the bakery to become an institution, while adapting to a changing world. “You could order online too…as long as you had a telephone,” Rodriguez joked.
The Rodriguezes also added popular lunch items like chicken Caesar salad wraps, sandwiches, quiches, spinach pies, and a variety of calzones while developing a strong following, despite being in an oversaturated restaurant area.
Time and health caught up with Luis and Elizabeth, and to make things more manageable, they decided to consolidate their two bakeries, ending Wayland Bakery’s 94-year run. With heavy hearts and empty stomachs, we traveled to Zaccagnini’s to check it out. It was less than four miles, about 10 minutes – or two cookies – away and well worth the trip!
As we grieve the loss of the bakery, we await what’s next for the site. We hear apartments – maybe Wayland Bakery Row or Cupcake Castle? If they’re astute, they’ll pump in the smell of freshly baked bread and pastry to market the units.
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