A sweet first Easter at Potito's in Center City

The Easter Bunny, played by Johnny McDermott, points out some of the goodies in the front window of the new Potito's Bakery location at 1315 Walnut St.
The Easter Bunny, played by Johnny McDermott, points out some of the goodies in the front window of the new Potito's Bakery location at 1315 Walnut St. (SUZETTE PARMLEY / Staff)
Posted: April 01, 2013

At Potito's Bakery at 16th and Ritner in South Philadelphia, the moneymaker has always been its famous cannoli, ranked tops in the city the last four years.

Potito's owners since 2009, Matthew and Cristina Benigno, wanted to take the next step, so the couple opened a second shop at 1315 Walnut St. about two months ago and they have another opening in North Wildwood just before Memorial Day weekend.

The big question now: Can this traditional neighborhood bakery succeed with locations throughout the region?

"We felt our product was so good that we wanted to bring it to Center City," said general manager Joe Martella, who was at the Center City shop Saturday as customers filtered in at a steady clip to load up on cannoli and holiday fare such as ricotta pie and Easter bread. "Our goal is to go beyond being a neighborhood bakery."

Potito's deep South Philly roots were palpable at the new location Saturday - Frank Sinatra singing "My Way" was playing in the background. On April 27, Martella said, the Center City bakery will begin offering live entertainment, including a Sinatra impersonator.

"The lines in our South Philly location are absolutely wild. We've been here for eight weeks and 27 years there," Martella said. "While it's been steady here, it's not like South Philly."

Martella, 49, hopes business picks up soon, as the colder weather breaks.

The pre-Easter Sunday crowd gave him renewed optimism that the owners picked the right spot downtown, tucked inside the Philadelphia Building and surrounded by cafes and restaurants at the corner of Walnut and Juniper Streets.

Martella said sales were up 50 percent on Saturday, adding, "The ricotta pie is definitely our top seller today.

"We needed that," he said. "It's been slow. It hasn't been really what we wanted. For the first week, everyone was excited. Then it dropped."

Potito's has been ranked No. 1 in the city several years in a row for its classic cannoli and as best bakery by Readers Choice - South Philly Review, and for best cannoli in Philadelphia Magazine's annual "Best of Philly" edition.

This year, it had to share the top-cannoli title with Termini Bros. Bakery, also in South Philly and one of Potito's chief competitors. Isgro Pastries is the other South Philly rival. Among those three competitors, it's a cannoli turf war.

"It's a big thing to be the No. 1 cannoli," Martella said.

Original owner Carmen Potito moved to South Philly from Italy at age 12, and by 24, he owned his own bakery. Martella said he personified the American dream. The bakery has stayed in the family.

The founder's work ethic remains intact, 27 years later. Martella said a typical workday starts at 5 a.m. and doesn't end until 8 p.m.

The Benignos bought the bakery in 2009 and decided to start selling specialty and wedding cakes to generate more revenue. The bakery also began selling to restaurants and delis about two years ago.

Said Matthew "Matty" Benigno, Carmen Potito's son-in-law and Martella's cousin: "South Philly is our heart, but we need to grow our business."

On Saturday, Kenneth Mascaro, 20, a University of the Arts student, stopped into Potito's Center City shop for coffee and a traditional cannoli to go.

Potito's deserved the top honors, in his opinion.

"It's really good," he said after taking a big bite.


Contact Suzette Parmley

at 215-854-2855 or sparmley@phillynews.com.

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