A recipe for success

Local bakery celebrates 65 years

Lincoln Bakery owner Joe Porco took over the business from father-in-law Andy Slezak in 1990. The bakery was established in 1945. Photo by Tom Steiner for The Citizen

A celebration tomorrow on Lincoln Avenue will go far beyond simply marking the 65th anniversary of Bellevue’s oldest family business.

It also will commemorate an “American-as-apple-pie” recipe for success, as baked up by Lincoln Bakery owner Joe Porco, who purchased the business from his father-in-law, Andy Slezak, in 1990.

The recipe that has worked so well for him throughout the decades? Lots of hard work, quality service and products, dedicated employees and loyal customers.

Lincoln had already been established for 10 years when Slezak purchased it in 1945.

“The bakery was my wife’s father’s place. I was going to school to be a hairdresser and I worked here part-time. I graduated from school and got my license, but I never used it. I liked it here and I stayed,” Joe said while on break from baking duties.

Bellevue has changed in many ways -- more banks these days than grocery stores, just the opposite of when Lincoln opened -- but the bakery has outlasted its long-gone competitors, Barkus, Sugar ‘n Spice, Queen Anne in Bellevue, Mandls in Avalon, in part, Joe believes, because of the constant dedication to high standards in his baking.

“We still make everything from scratch. We use no bag mixes or anything pre-made.”

Along with the hard work has been the perseverance to keep the business going.

“We’ve made it through some tough times. You can’t just jump ship if things go bad.”

Joe said that he also has been fortunate to have good employees, but that the icing on the cake (so to speak) has been his customers. “We have wonderful, loyal customers. Without them, we wouldn’t be here.”

Joe’s six-days-per week routine begins at 6:30 each morning and ends -- at earliest -- at 4 in the afternoon.

While the bakery has a steady flow of walk-in customers, it has developed a large cake business, serving between 12 and 17 wedding cakes per week during the May-October season. Save the calculating time: That would be about 350 cakes.

In addition to the cake itself, Joe said, “We’re noted for the French butter-cream icing that we have created. It is not ‘gritty’ sweet icing used by some. Ours is a very smooth icing.”

One of his July wedding cakes was for Abby Stewart, daughter of Heidi Stewart who moved with her family to Emsworth in 1969 and now lives in Franklin Park. Heidi spares no words in her praise of Lincoln.

“We have their cakes for birthdays (mine, my parents’, my husband’s, my children’s, my grandsons’, my mother-father-brothers-in-laws’), high school graduations (mine, my children’s, and hopefully in future, my grandchildren’s), college graduations (mine, my children’s and hopefully in the future, my grandchildren’s), law school graduation (mine), weddings (mine and my two daughters’ so far – a son to go!) baby blessings (my two grandsons’), bridal showers (my two daughters’), baby shower (for my first grandson…”

And being a true connoisseur, she has her favorite.

“It’s what we call the “Ho Ho” cake – chocolate with chocolate fudge frosting. It’s addicting and I’ve turned a lot of people on to it. Really good with raspberry filling or just butter cream. The baker told me once that the reason there is butter cream on the cake and then the chocolate fudge frosting on top is because the fudge frosting goes on hot and would just melt into the cake if it weren’t for the butter cream. All the yummier!”

This year, the only Saturday when no cakes will be delivered: Sept. 11.

“It’s understandable,” Joe said, noting that he will, however, fill two wedding cake orders for Friday, Sept. 10.

Most customers stopping in for their daily treats may find two or three sales personnel tending the store, and they would probably be surprised to learn that it took the efforts of a well-coordinated team of 28 employees to put together the array of pastries, cakes, pies, cookies and breads.

“We have six bakers and five in the cake room, icing and decorating. And then someone is head of sales, and there is the finisher, the production manager, the cake room co-ordinator, the manager of the store and the office,” Joe said.

And there is loyalty from his employees.

The head of cake decorating has worked at Lincoln since 1999. “He attended the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and worked at a couple other bakeries. He said he’d like to come on board and he’s been here ever since.”

The decorating goes beyond a veneer of icing topped by a few flowers.

“They can do anything with a cake that you want,” Stewart said. “They are artists. I’m always amazed when I see what new things they are doing. Recently, I saw a shower cake in the window and it was a rubber duck with bubbles. Fantastic!”

Lincoln’s strong reputation attracts customers far beyond Bellevue’s borders.

“We deliver wedding cakes all over Western Pennsylvania and into Ohio,” Joe said.

On a few occasions -- three, to be precise -- the delivery was interrupted by traffic accidents. “But we replaced each of the cakes and got new ones to the reception before it even started. Three accidents in 20 years. I’m proud of that -- knock on wood!” Joe said.

Tomorrow will be business as usual at the bakery, but from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., there will be a little fun on the side.

“I’ll be giving away 300 t-shirts, and hot dogs, door prizes, balloons.There will be a raffle for a TV and a raffle for Steelers and Penguin shirts. And we’ll be giving away between 500 and 600 dollars worth of gift certificates.”

Will the business go on?

“I have two sons,” Joe said. “One is still in college and the older one, who has a college degree in marketing, works here now”

And even though he cannot say for certain that the bakery will remain in the family, Joe Porco has no plans of changing his recipe for success.

“I just remodeled the store last September. I really do believe that Bellevue has a good customer base.”

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