In the final hours before they retired their baking peels for good, Sammy and Laura Prestano didn’t exactly take it easy. "My husband woke up at 4 a.m.," said Laura Prestano, to trek into the tiny bakery in Selden they had run for 40 years. The day before, S Prestano Bakery had been so flooded with regulars that the shelves were cleared of bread, cookies and doughnuts, and needed to be replenished.
"We were blown away," said Laura Prestano. "We had no idea people were so attached to coming to this place after 60 years."
Yes, 60 years is how long the tiny bakery on Middle Country Road sold loaves of bread, cookies and cakes, the last remaining bakeshop of a Prestano baking dynasty that once dotted Suffolk County — with bakeries in Patchogue, Ronkonkoma, Coram, Middle Island, Mastic, Nesconset, Wading River and Selden — from the 1950s until now, and involved multiple Prestano generations.
"My father had seven siblings and only one that that wasn’t a baker," quipped Sam Prestano, Sammy’s father, during a phone call from Florida, where he is (allegedly) retired. "I’m 83 years old and I still got my pizza oven going, and I make my bread and my cookies."
"It’s in their blood," said Laura, his daughter-in-law. "He still has a bakery set up in his garage — he just can’t stop."
The Prestano baking story begins in Palermo, Sicily, where the Prestano family owned a bakery before Settimo Prestano migrated to New York City in 1907. The first Prestano bakery opened on First Avenue in the 1920s, followed by 11 Prestano bakeries in Bronx and, eventually, an eastward family migration that seeded bakeries across Suffolk County; the first, in Patchogue, opened in 1953. Each carried the first initials of its proprietors.
"We baked a Sicilian hard-crust bread," said Sam, as well as cookies. Cakes were eventually added, as was fresh macaroni, cannoli, danishes, pies and giant doughnuts. Special-occasion cakes were a specialty.
The elder Sam — also known as "big Sam" — ran a bakery in Nesconset in 1981, one that was eventually taken over by his son, Bobby. When Sammy and Laura married, they took over the Selden bakery, which a Prestano cousin (Joe Prestano) had opened in 1960. "We were only kids, 23," said Laura, who raised her two daughters, Jennifer and Barbara, in the bakery; they’d help out as teenagers. Barbara went on to own the now-closed B Prestano Bakery in Rocky Point, and now runs a baking food truck in North Carolina with her husband, Michael Henry.
Laura and Sammy Prestano are grateful for the customer support that kept them going for decades, but Laura Prestano said the time was nigh to retire, to North Carolina. "It’s a hard business — everything we made was from scratch, from recipes from a hundred years ago," Laura said. If their baker didn’t show up, her husband would work all night, from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m., to stock up for the morning.
"We’re retiring, but we’ll probably still be baking," she admitted.