Faith, Family, and Fruitcake. A Closer Walk with Mike Cinotti part 1
Mike Cinotti is a man revered both professionally and privately. His devotion to faith, family, and business is widely known. He responsible for so many elements of his successful bakery. I had the wonderful opportunity to sit with him this month to learn more about the various aspects of his life. In Part 1 of this interview, sitting in his small office at the bakery on Penman Road, Mike, opens up about his early years.
How old were you when you first started baking?
Up until I was about nine, I really just played around and ate the food. Then my dad started letting me help at the table. I can remember as a 10-year-old, my dad let me make a batch of rye bread.
How’d that turn out?
It actually turned out pretty well. But, at the age of 12, I was able to make cheesecake. And I mean; I scaled it, mixed it, baked it and dumped it all by myself. That was pretty cool. There I was, an eighth grader making cheesecake after school.
Why did you become a baker?
I have enjoyed this since my earliest memories. If you’re gonna do something your entire life, there should be a sense of enjoyment and fulfillment in it. This is what I do. It’s what I enjoy… You know they say sometimes things are in your blood. I’m not sure about flour being in our veins, but it’s what our family does. It’s what we know. The Lord has blessed our hands and I enjoy it. I especially love the aroma. When I leave the bakery and come back, the aroma even from the parking lot is enjoyable.
If you’re gonna do something your entire life, there should be a sense of enjoyment and fulfillment in it.
Were there any influential people in your life that helped propel your baking career?
My dad, of course. But there also was a man, Mr. Draper, who was a flavor salesman for a company. He had extensive knowledge of baking and consulted for many different companies. I was fortunate to know him and learn from him every time he and my dad got together.
We did get an opportunity to meet some bakers from around the country that were quite incredible. Gene Wilson in Georgia; Hanz Nadler in Texas; and Carl Poppingay over at Edgewood Bakery were very influential. And, when I was in Minnesota for a year in school, I worked for Cliff Meyers who added to my love of baking.
Did you go to school to learn the trade or are you self-taught?
Ninety-nine percent of what I learned from my father and from other bakers around the country. I did get the chance to go to Minnesota, to Dunwoody Baking School. It’s funny, I knew how to do almost everything they did there. What I didn’t know was the reasons behind some of the ingredient changes and the effects some of the ingredients had on each other and to the final product. It was a great learning experience from the book side of it. And, I got to make friends with other bakers, some of whom I keep up with even 40 years later. But mostly, it was a great compliment to my father and those I grew up with, having taught me as much as they taught me when I got there at 17 ½ years old, to already have an incredible base for my industry.
Well, it wouldn’t be fruitcake, that’s for sure! I don’t think there’s one product in particular, but I really like the holiday special items we put out in November and December. Rainbow Bars, that we don’t make every day. They’re very colorful and tasteful. I still enjoy making breads, but that’s because I like eating it too. You know, I do love apple strudel and making them.
So, I take it fruitcake is something you dislike making?
Not necessarily, fruitcake brings back so many memories from the late 60’s when my dad would let me help. Gosh, I never got to make the topping because that was the special part. And I never got to do the packing part. But there was so much comradery involved in the process. Fruitcake, for me, brings back so many memories. But, no, it’s not my favorite product to make. For me, it’s a personal thing. It has a different meaning.
Are there any elements of the craft of baking drive you crazy?
To be a successful bakery, you have to be more than just a successful baker. One of the things that bothers me is the abundance of pre-made baked goods readily available to those that call themselves bakers. When all a person has to do is pull an item from the freezer, bake it and it’s done, that’s a big pet peeve of mine. What does that person do when the truck doesn’t arrive? Or if a customer wants a variation of that product? Most people out there today are not trained to make these items from scratch. While I understand the need for consistency, but heating up pre-made items is not an art.
To be a successful bakery, you have to be more than just a successful baker.”
What’s the main thing you want people to take from your product or business?
We try to create an environment that’s loving and enjoyable. We have generations of families that come in. The other day, a lady who wanted a picture of me holding her baby because she came in here as a little girl… That’s impactful.
In the world of prefabbed meals, it’s easy to see why people flock to the homemade works of art put out by Mike and his staff each day. Cinotti values quality over quantity in each item he and his team create. The love and respect he has for people and his community echoes through his family and staff. In part 2 of this Legends Interview, Mike brings us forward in time to discuss current issues facing his bakery and industry. For more information on Mike Cinotti and his team, head over to 1523 Penman Road in Jacksonville Beach, FL. Once you taste the love from these pastries, you’ll understand why there’s a line out the door every day.