In 1962, a family of Italian immigrants opened a bakery at 6501 Roosevelt Rd. (on the Berwyn side of the street). Strapped for cash the family pulled together and bought an oven for $200 and began baking authentic Italian breads. However it wasn’t until Assunta Turano, one of the matriarchs of the family-affectionately known as “Mama Susi”-began distributing her pizzas at grocery stores that the bakery really took off.
The pizzas were mass produced, and as Mama Susi’s granddaughter, Renee Turano, attests, “the reason [Turano Bread] is who we are.” The simple combination of bread, cheese, and a light tomato sauce were the first fresh pizzas available in grocery stores throughout the Chicago area.
In the mid-1970s, Turano was unable to keep up with the demand for pizzas and stopped producing them.
Now 30 years later, the store on Roosevelt Road is getting back to its roots.
Renee and her cousin, Jennifer Turano, decided to honor their grandmother by reviving the original pizza product. The original 600-square-foot Turano bakery space, which had been converted into a bake shop beside Turano’s factory (dominating an entire block along Roosevelt), is now called the “Mama Susi Bakeshop.” Additionally, the cousins have brought back the oven used by Assunta Turano in 1962 and are digging out the old family recipe.
For six weeks in April and May the bakery closed down so the family could complete what Renee described as an “incredibly emotional project to honor the people who created this business.”
The renovated Mama Susi Bakeshop is a pinch of the old with a dash of the new. Assunta Turano would certainly recognize the original brick walls that now surround the bakery where she spent countless hours, but she might find unfamiliar the marble countertops and fancy light fixtures.
The same could also be said for some of the food offered at Mama Susi. The bakeshop still serves the traditional cannolis, éclairs, and lobster tails, but some of the low-fat products, or those served with Nutella, would be foreign to Assunta.
The focus of all the renovations, however, is to bring back the pizzas that made the Turano name famous.
“It’s unbelievable how many people walk in and say, ‘Oh my god, Mama Susi pizza!'” said Renee.
Describing her partnership with cousin Jennifer as the perfect yin and yang, she said the pizza is “the base for awesomeness. It’s the best meal in the world for a baseball game or after karate.”
A lot of things can be done with these simple pizzas, she added. Renee advised topping it with prosciutto and caramelized onions, but said it can be just as tasty with sausage and peppers.
According to Renee, the process of aligning the store’s history with the present has been “extraordinary. It reminds me of where we started in 1962. I have a whole new respect for my parents, uncles, and grandparents.”