LEWISTON — For the first time since the Italian Bakery opened nearly 60 years ago, someone outside the Chiaravelotti family will own it.
The popular neighborhood eatery is being sold.
Brandon LeClair, a 32-year-old baker who has worked for almost 19 years for Lewiston’s also-beloved Labadie’s Bakery, will take over Jan. 1, 2019. However, he doesn’t plan to change a thing, including the name or the menu.
“I would be hard-pressed to change anything,” LeClair said. “What they do works and the entire city loves them for it. I don’t think there would be any necessary changes to make.”
Current owner Lisa Chiaravelotti Chouinard called the sale “bittersweet.” She said she loves the bakery but felt ready to slow down after working there for 40 years, the first 30 for her father and the past 10 as owner. She’s also expecting two grandchildren and wanted more time to spend with them.
“If I thought I could stay young forever, I would be here forever,” said Chouinard, 54. “The most important thing to me at this point is the customers. Obviously, I have a lot of bonds that I’ve formed with them, we have so many regulars.”
Although the sale had not yet been officially announced, rumors about it had been circulating on Facebook and within the community. Chouinard said some customers have stopped by the bakery believing it’s about to shut down for good.
And, in fact, Chouinard isn’t going anywhere. At least not for a while.
“I’m going to stay and make sure the transition goes smoothly. I’m going to stay on and work with them until we feel everything is where it should be,” she said.
She’s already given LeClair some advice about the work of owning a bakery.
“I’ve warned him: It doesn’t end,” she said.
LeClair may be a new owner, but he’s no stranger to the Italian Bakery. Born and raised in Lewiston, LeClair grew up going to the bakery every week for its bean specials. His father also enjoyed the puff pastries and bismarcks, right up until LeClair began working at Labadie’s in 2000.
“They kind of switched over to (Labadie’s) whoopie pies to support what I was doing,” LeClair said of his parents. “I’m pretty sure he’s switching back.”
Frank Chiaravelotti, Chouinard’s father, started the Italian Bakery in 1960. The bakery first produced Italian sandwich rolls, bread and pizza dough for wholesale customers throughout Maine, according to its website. A few years later, it began selling hand-cut doughnuts, pastries and bread to retail customers.
The eatery added pizzas, calzones, Italians and other sandwiches in the 1970s. It currently offers breakfast, lunch and daily meal specials, and doughnuts, cookies, pastries, bread, cakes and deep-dish pies.
According to the website, all seven Chiaravelotti children have worked in the bakery, “with a third generation now learning the ropes.”
LeClair heard earlier this year that Chouinard might be open to selling the bakery. He approached her in March and they eventually came to an agreement.
Chouinard said her father, now 91, approves of the sale.
“He has given me his blessing,” she said. “He understands.”
The bakery will remain open as usual through the holiday season.
LeClair takes ownership Jan. 1. Because the bakery is always closed New Year’s Day, it will officially reopen under LeClair on Jan. 2.
While it won’t be in the Chiaravelotti family any more, The Italian Bakery will remain a family operation.
LeClair has a wife and two sons, ages 9 and 4.
“One of the big reasons we’re doing this and making this decision is to build a future for my boys,” he said. “That was always the idea, to build something that I can leave them if they want to take over one day, to try to build a legacy for my family, exactly as the Chiaravelottis have done.”
The Italian Bakery on Bartlett Street in Lewiston will see new ownership on Jan. 1, 2019. (Andree Kehn/Sun journal)