The family of Natale Bozzo, a founder of one of Toronto‘s most popular and beloved bakeries, say they want the 75-year-old baker to be remembered as someone who was humble, determined and hardworking after it was announced he died of COVID-19 in a hospital on Thursday.
“It was his passion to go to work, it was his passion to create cakes and pastries for everyone,” Rob Bozzo, Natale’s son, told Global News in an interview Thursday evening.
“I know I’m going to go on the edge, but he was a master baker. Just the recipes he knew from back home – from cannoli Sicilian to spongecakes to picking out a problem in a batter or in a dough – (he was) just very knowledgable and knew everything about the business inside and out.”
Natale, who was born in 1945 and had six siblings, immigrated to Canada from Italy when he was 15.
For several years, he worked his way up through the industry and spent a large portion of time at Sicilia Bakery on College Street. After honing his skills, Rob said Natale and his brothers borrowed money from their uncle and acquired the bakery’s present location on Royal York Road in 1969.
“They worked 20 hours a day because they didn’t have refrigeration,” he said.
“They grew that business with their love and their passion for the business.”
Natale eventually went on to buy SanRemo Bakery from his brothers, and subsequently brought in his young sons.
“Today we have a good name (and that) is all because of him … everything we have has been handed down to us by him,” Rob said.
“When you work six, seven days with that person, and you’re at home with that person and everything you learn in life and everything you’ve learned is because he taught you.”
Rob said after about 51 years, Natale stepped back from the business and partially retired, adding Natale would spend about six months of the year in Florida.
However, when Natale was in Canada, he was around to help his sons — and during the coronavirus pandemic was no different.
“Because of COVID he came here, he wanted to give us a helping hand… and here we are today,” Rob said.
He recalled how after the business was forced to temporarily close in March during the first wave, Natale provided his advice and guidance as the business eventually turned to rely on takeout orders.
“His work ethic for us, he didn’t think of COVID-19 as selfish. He came to help us,” Rob said.
“In hindsight, maybe he should have been a little more concerned about this pandemic and what it has done. But he’s a selfless human being and we owe what we have today because of him.”
Rob said it was around a month-and-a-half ago when Natale had to be hospitalized due to COVID-19, but over the past week-and-a-half he and his family got to see Natale four times and were able to be with him when he died.
“It was a rough six weeks and a rough time for us,” he said.
“COVID-19 is real and … we have to get rid of this thing. My father lost his life to this pandemic, this terrible pandemic, and if anyone out there… this stuff is real.”
SanRemo Bakery a ‘staple’ of Etobicoke: councillor
Ward 3 Etobicoke-Lakeshore Coun. Mark Grimes represents the community where the bakery is located and reflected on the impact Natale and the business have had.
“Just devastating news to the family,” he told Global News Thursday evening when asked about Natale’s death.
“It’s a very sad day for everyone in Mimico because they are really the central focus for that part of town and loved by a lot, a lot of people.”
Grimes said even after Natale’s sons took over the business, Natale worked in the back but was proud of what they put into it.
“Councillors come (to the bakery) from all over the city … I know it’s a big stop for a lot of people,” he said, noting the popularity of the bakery’s doughnuts.
“You go by there any day and it’s just a buzz of activity, especially on a Saturday or Sunday, you know weddings, birthdays, Christmas, Easter, they are just lined up. They have an amazing product.”
On social media, there were thousands of comments from customers and residents.
Ontario Premier and Etobicoke North MPP Doug Ford also expressed his condolences in a post on Twitter, saying Natale was “a true local champion who followed his passions.”
“A family-owned business, the @SanRemoBakeryTO has been a staple in Etobicoke for many years. God bless the Bozzo family,” he tweeted.
Meanwhile, Rob said he and his family wanted to thank their customers for all of their support.
“For all of them giving prayers and sending prayers, we appreciate everything. We appreciate all the wishful thinking,” he said.
“We want to say thank you. Right now it’s really tough for us.
“Respect what’s around you, give appreciation in your life. My father was probably one of the most humble people you would meet.”
Natale is survived by his wife of 49 years, Nicoletta, his sons Rob, Nick and Eddie, and his five grandchildren.