The Rotella's story is an American success
tale that began in Italy, where young Alessandro
(Alexander) Rotella raised wheat with his
father and brothers.
Lou Rotella Sr., one of Alessandro's sons,
said the family milled its own wheat, as
well as that of its neighbors. The Rotella's
also operated a small bakery. But try as
they might, the family couldn't make a decent
In an effort to better his family's life,
Alessandro brought his wife, Maria, and
their first daughter to America in about1909.
"My father always said Italy was his
mother, because he was born there, but America
was his father because it supported him,"
said Lou Sr.
The Rotellas settled first in New York City,
where Alessandro worked in the construction business
to provide for his family, which added five more
children during the years in New York. Things
went well until one of the children, Michael,
Doctors attributed his affliction to the salty
sea air, and suggested that Michael's health would
continue to deteriorate unless the family moved
Alessandro decided that the family should move
to Omaha, where he hoped to get a job with the
Union Pacific Railroad. The family moved here
in about 1915, and Alessandro went to work for
the railroad shortly after.
During a 1921 strike, Alessandro found himself
in need of work. He went to an Italian bakery
which was owned by an old man. Rather than simply
hiring Alessandro, the man suggested that he buy
the business. Alessandro told the man that buying
the bakery was not much of an option. Lou Sr.
said his father told the man, "I've got six
kids, I'm broke and I don't have a job."
However, the two men worked out a deal that made
it possible for Alessandro to purchase the bakery
by paying the owner $25 each month.
always said Italy was his mother,
because he was born there, but
America was his father because
it supported him."
|- Lou Rotella
The same year, the Rotellas began operating the
bakery, which was at 2117 Pierce Street. The business
was family-run from the start. "My mother
was very instrumental in the business," said
Lou Sr., noting that although Alessandro did not
have a formal education, his wife had been educated
in Italy. "Between the two of them, they
made the business go," he said.
Eventually, there were 10 children in the family.
"We all took our turns at the various jobs."
At first, the bakery made bread for its own small
retail shop, as well as for Omaha restaurants
of the time. Lou Sr. said he can remember riding
on the bread truck as his older brothers made
deliveries to those restaurants.
Gradually, Rotella's customer list grew. In addition
to restaurants, the bakery began producing bread
for Omaha grocery stores, which were responsible
for a tremendous upsurge in the bakery's business.
"It just kept growing after that," said
Alessandro's children worked in the bakery for
many years (including during World War II, when
his daughter Helen drove the delivery truck),
most of them gradually drifted away as they got
married and started families of their own.
By 1947, Alessandro had been running the bakery
for 26 years and was ready to retire. "My
brother Ameado had come home from the Army in
1945 and was helping my father run the bakery.
I came home from the Army in 1947 and relieved
my father, knowing that I would not have the time
to accept a four-year college-wrestling scholarship,"
said Lou Sr. "My brother Ameado and I Became
partners and ran the bakery for the next 28 years."
By 1965, space in the old bakery was no longer
adequate. "I knew that we could not grow
at 21st and Pierce," recalled Lou Sr., who
proposed a move to a 22,000 square-foot building
at 24th and Pierce Streets. "I was always
confident of investing money, even when everybody
was discouraging me." The move proved to
be a good one.
As time passed, Lou Sr.'s son, Lou Jr., began
working in the business.
"He used to help me when he was in grade
school," said Lou Sr. "By the time he
was in the 8th grade, he was able to run production
in the plant." On Sunday mornings, Lou Jr.
would manage the bakery so Lou Sr. and his wife
could could go to church.
While at Ryan High School, Lou Jr. continued
to work side-by-side with his father, and knew
how to run the entire operation by that time.
Lou Jr.'s life became extremely busy after he
graduated and entered UNO, where he earned a degree
in business management. "He worked in the
bakery, went to college, and was in the Army Reserve
at the same time," said Lou Sr.
In 1975, Lou Sr. bought out his brother Ameado.
The following year, Lou Jr. took over day-to-day
operation of the business, which has continued
to expand. A 1989 move took the plant from 24th
and Pierce to spacious quarters at 108th and Harrison
Lou Sr. continues to go to work each day. Among
his many activities frequent checks to make
sure that the ingredients used will assure continued
integrity of the finished product.
As the business has grown, so have its product
offerings. From a single product in 1921 (unsliced
hard-crust Italian hearth bread), Rotella's product
line-up now includes over 240 varieties of breads,
rolls and other baked goods.
One of the factors behind the company's tremendous
growth was a simple thing slicing the bread.
Lou Sr. said the original Italian bread was sold
unsliced and packaged in a paper wrapper. A quick
sale of the product was critical, because the
bread would dry out if not sold and eaten within
a day or two.
By slicing the loaves and putting them into plastic
bags, their freshness and unique flavor were preserved
and a convenience factor was created. "Our
business just zoomed," said Lou Sr.
Current products include Italian, rye, pumpernickel,
sourdough, egg breads and variations on traditional
themes, as well as specialty products that are
made for large national companies.
Louis J. Rotella Sr., president and part owner
of Rotella's Italian Bakery, was inducted into
the Omaha Hospitality Hall of Fame last October
during a gourmet dinner at Metropolitan Community
The son and grandson of Italian bakers, Rotella
has worked in the family-owned bakery for decades
and continues on the job. His son, Louis Rotella
Jr., runs day-to-day operations.
The senior Rotella, a standout high school wrestler
during his years at Omaha Central, was also inducted
into the Nebraska Scholastic Wrestling Coaches
Hall of Fame last year. A two-time state champion
for Central in 1941 and'45, Rotella placed third
in the 1945 Amateur Athletic Union national competition
in Dallas. Also in 1945, he became a Midwest AAU
champion while competing as part of a team made
up of state champions.
Later, he helped young wrestlers at Omaha Ryan
High School and at the University of Nebraska
The Nebraska Restaurant Association named Rotella's
Italian Bakery as its Purveyor of the Year in
1999. Fifteen years before that, the Omaha Restaurant
Association honored Rotella's as Purveyor of the