Labriola has become a reliable source for restaurants and upscale grocery stores, and they continue to ramp up production with few signs of slowing down.
Large bakeries like Gonnella and Turano have been around for years. Smaller operations like D'Amato's and Red Hen have tried to capture a niche market. Labriola continues to produce bread for both large chains like Trader Joe's but also small, individual restaurants, such as Rick Bayless' Xoco. That versatility and consistency keeps the local bread company at the forefront of the bread business.
The sourdough baguettes are just one part of the equation. Sure, some will end up in Chicago, but a lot of them are destined for Trader Joe's stores in Michigan; it's that big thinking that defines Richard Labriola as an entrepreneur, but at his core, he's a baker. So as he shows a visitor around the sprawling facility in southwest suburban Alsip, you get the sense he's like a kid in a candy store, or, in this case, a commercial bakery that's producing hundreds of thousands of baked goods each week.
"My favorites are really the simple breads - the baguettes, the ciabattas, because that's really a baker's skill, is what can you do with flour and water," said Labriola.
Not only combining them in larger-than-normal recipes, but also kneading by hand and letting some breads - like a semolina batard - ferment a bit longer than normal.
"Through a series of long fermentation, some hand folds, the gluten structures come together without mechanical force to get the strength to hold the fermentation," he said.
And quite simply, that translates into breads with more character. Some of the dough produced here is bound for Labriola's Cafe in Oak Brook, where they use it for sandwiches, salads and even pizzas. He loves the idea of European bread culture, where you get a loaf or a baguette every day. While that lifestyle might not make sense in Chicago, he thinks there's always room for high quality.
"That's really the trade off is you have to work a little bit to go get that loaf every day. Little bit of pain, but a lot of pleasure," said Labriola.
The things that bring Labriola the most pleasure these days are pretzels; actually, pretzel bread. His company is leading the pack in this new category, and he's got one German machine dedicated to it. He just wants to make sure the quality stays consistent, as his business continues to grow.
"We're not trying to turn an artisan bakery into a commercial bakery. We're just trying to have an artisan bakery that's highly efficient," he said.
If you see pretzel bread in the form of croissants, hamburger buns and dinner rolls, chances are very good they're coming from that bakery in Alsip.
Labriola Bakery & Cafe
3021 Butterfield Rd, Oak Brook