WILLIAMSBURG — One of the last remaining Italian bakeries in North Brooklyn celebrated its 40th anniversary Monday evening, with copious quantities of free tiramisu, cannoli, cheesecake, espresso, and other delectable goodies for all who stopped in.
Fortunato Brothers Café (289 Manhattan Ave.) blocked off Devoe Street Monday evening for the festivities and Williamsburg residents turned out in droves to stuff their faces with sweet treats.
Members of the Fortunato family said they attribute their longevity to top-quality ingredients and willingness to innovate.
"There were a lot of bakeries. One at a time everybody closed down," said Michael Fortunato, 68. "I keep changing. Today I [made] a lot of different cakes I never made before."
He pointed out a pistachio tiramisu and a fluffy cream cake made from a combination of chocolate, sweet cream and Nutella.
"People want change. They don't want the same cake all the time."
The Fortunato Brothers import select ingredients from Italy and other European countries including the chocolate, some of the dyes and the rum. They bring in best ricotta cheese they can find from Connecticut, they said.
Biagio Fortunato, 36, son of one of the founding brothers, who has worked at the shop since he was 9, said their business is successful thanks to a combination of new and old clients.
"All my old clients still come back, the ones that are still alive," he said with a chuckle.
"We have a lot of different people, new faces coming in every single day," he added. "I guess the word spreads."
The bakery was founded after three of the Fortunato brothers emigrated from Naples, Italy, in 1970 and decided to open a shop underneath the apartment where they lived in 1976. Michael was already working as a baker in a pastry shop in Hoboken, New Jersey, and was the lead chef.
Skeptics had warned them at the time that they were too far away from foot traffic and wouldn't be successful.
"It was a dead spot really, it was too quiet," people had told them, said Mario Fortunato, 69, who federal prosecutors claimed has ties to the Genovese crime family. He was convicted of murder, though that conviction was overturned and he won $300,000 in a settlement with the state for time he spent in prison, according to the Daily News.
On Monday evening, ecstatic Williamsburg residents greeted the copious amounts of free baked goods with a combination of excitement and nostalgia.
"They don't have muffins," like newer bakeries in the neighborhood said Liz Falabella, 56, a long-time Williamsburg resident. "They have cake and cookies and all the good stuff. This is our specialty Italian Bakery. We don't want this one to change, 'cause where would we go? Manhattan?"
Another lifelong Williamsburg resident Villian Rosa, 39, whose mother had introduced her to the Fortunato Brothers as a child, gawked at a 3-foot-long cannoli.
"Oh my god I love the cannolis," she said. "It's hard to explain. It's the crunchiness, the sweetness, the chocolate chips."
Philomena Salvato, 64, worried newcomers to the neighborhood would crash the festivities for the free food.
"The hipsters are coming," she commented to a friend.
"This was a nice Italian neighborhood, everybody knew each other and now with all the gentrification and building up, it's just knocking down memories," Salvato said.
Monday's celebration, which corresponded with Columbus Day, was a memento of the past, she said.
"It's a nice reminder of what life used to be in this neighborhood," she said. "It makes me happy."
When asked whether Fortunato Brothers Café will be around for another 40 years, Frank Fortunato, 57, the youngest of the founders, said, "I hope so. It's up to the next generation."