The Calandras follow tradition: entrepreneurship and the Stillman School of Business.
It’s been decades since Anthony Calandra ’85 punched down dough and shaped it into plump, perfect loaves at his family’s bakery, but he still remembers exactly what his father taught him to do.
The same could be said for his business acumen, which he also credits to his dad, and which has helped Anthony and his brother, Luciano “Lou” Calandra Jr., turn a family business into a full-fledged food-and-hospitality empire.
But before he tells the story about all that — the restaurants and hotels, the wine and olive oil lines, the 750 employees and the 50,000-square-foot bakery operation — Anthony wants to start at the beginning, back when his father arrived in New Jersey from Sicily.
“He came to this country when he was 28 years old, dreaming of a better life,” Anthony says of Luciano Sr. “It’s the classic American success story,” he adds, right down to the dream of entrepreneurship.
Luciano opened Calandra’s Bakery in Newark, N.J., in 1962, the same year Anthony was born. He worked long hours to transform the small bakery into something bigger and little by little, year by year, it happened.
Anthony began washing pots and pans for his dad’s thriving business while enrolled at Seton Hall Prep. He soon learned how to bake bread and by the time he turned 18, he was managing the bakery’s route books and accounting ledgers. “A lot of my friends would cut class to go down the shore or go out to lunch,” Anthony says. “I’d cut class to go to work. The same with my brother, we just enjoyed working.”
While the boys’ father encouraged them to pursue law degrees or medical school, Anthony resisted. “I told my father, ‘No, I want to stay in the family business,’” he says, “and he was happy with that.”
As a student at Seton Hall, Anthony split his time between learning about business and helping to run one. He was barely 21 when he found himself negotiating a $250,000 deal with AT&T for a hotel the family was building. “The salespeople are looking at me going, ‘Is this kid for real?’”
When Luciano Sr. retired in 1986, he owned two thriving bakeries and two local hotels. Anthony was 24 years old by then, fresh out of the Stillman School of Business, and his 20-year-old brother Lou was a student there. “College taught me how to be a better person, a more mature person, and a more educated individual,” Anthony says. “I knew the business I wanted to be in, and college gave me the tools to do it.”
Over the last 25 years, the brothers have continued to expand on what their father started. Calandra’s Bakery now distributes its breads and pastries to more than 500 restaurants, delis and supermarkets in the tri-state area, as well as Yankee Stadium and The Prudential Center. They also built two more hotels, opened three restaurants and, most recently, created Calandra’s Italian Village in Caldwell, N.J. “It’s everything Italian under one roof: our own restaurant, lounge, bakery, deli, café, gelateria and wine store,” Anthony says.
With that venture complete and thriving, Anthony has begun to “take it a little easier” these days, which in his case means working six days a week instead of seven. He’s also been grooming another generation of Calandra entrepreneurs to one day run the family empire. His 19-year-old son Thomas, a junior at Seton Hall, and his daughter Kristin, 22, have already started to carve out their niches — management for Thomas and sales and marketing for Kristin.
“I want to keep my kids on the right footing,” Anthony says. Since they were young teens, that’s meant instilling the value of hard work — just as Luciano Sr. did for Anthony and Lou.
“Here’s a funny story,” Anthony says. “When my son was 14 years old, he was working as a busboy in one of our lounges. One of the customers said to him, ‘Aren’t you too young to work?’ So [Thomas] went to my manager and said, ‘Isn’t it illegal for me to be doing this?’ She had a great answer. She told him: ‘You’re only too young if we pay you.’”
Molly Petrilla is a freelance writer based in New Jersey.