If you’ve ever wanted to hear a story about a man who truly represents the American dream, then look no further than Ettore’s story from Ettore’s European Bakery. Ettore grew up in Switzerland as a pastry apprentice. By the age of 20, he was already a professional Swiss pastry chef. Ettore left for America in 1977 with only $350 to his name, and he began receiving notoriety as he worked in numerous restaurants and hotels until the day he decided to start his own bakery. Since then, Ettore’s European Bakery has grown to be a household name in the Sacramento community. Ettore was kind enough to answer a few questions for BFFF and share his experiences about the creation of his incredible bakery.
The story of your beginnings as a pastry chef in Switzerland and then immigrating to the United States is truly inspiring! How did these experiences shape you, not only as a culinary artist, but as a person?
Growing up in Switzerland prepared me to be self-sufficient, and immigrating from Switzerland made me grateful for everything I have. The Swiss are very practical. I grew up where hard work was expected from an early age. I was in a rigorous pastry apprenticeship living away from home by the time I was 16.
Food is VERY expensive in Switzerland, and it is such a big part of our culture. You are raised to appreciate good food and respect all the effort it takes to make something delicious. The Swiss would rather eat quality than quantity, and that is how it has been for hundreds of years. Also, owning a new business is very hard in Switzerland. I do not believe what I have done here in America would be possible in Switzerland, unless my family already owned a bakery. Switzerland is a very small and established country, and businesses get handed down generations. Not many are started as it is EXTREMELY expensive to start something new, and I did not have the money. I love Switzerland, but America really is the land of opportunity. I appreciate both countries for what they have taught me and enabled me to achieve.
What kind of jobs did you work when you first arrived in America?
I always worked as a pastry chef in America. With my training as a European pastry chef, I was always able to find a job. I worked in some of the nicer hotels, restaurants, and country clubs, mostly in the southern states such as Florida, Georgia, and Texas before coming back to California.
You had no money when you decided to open up Ettore’s European Bakery. What made you take that first step to opening up your own bakery?
The moment I stepped foot in America, I fell in love with the country and the people. I knew I wanted to own my own business. I wanted the American dream and was willing to do WHATEVER it took to make it happen. When I was working for Viva Croissant (what would eventually become Ettore’s), the man I was working for was not a baker, but a lawyer. He quickly realized he was a better lawyer then a bakery owner and trusted me in his business. I did not have the money to buy the business, but because of my work ethic, and the fact that I had fulfilled every commitment I made to him, he financed 100% of the purchase for me, and I paid him back in full within 5 years. I worked 100 hours a week and even used to sleep at the bakery on bags of flour, but that is what it took to get started. I was so hungry to succeed and to prove myself!
Your philosophy is that only real butter should be used in your pastries. What is the difference between real butter and butter at the grocery store? How does it make your pastries different?
For the most part, butter is butter. The difference comes when most bakeries, including grocery store bakeries, mix butter with margarine, lard, or fillers for a cheaper product. That changes the quality and the taste of the product. At Ettore’s, we use only 100% sweet butter, always.
You want to give your customers a cultural experience when they visit Ettore’s. How do you ensure that your products are in accordance with European traditions?
We start by using 100% real butter, real eggs, and fresh ingredients. We make our products fresh every day, and we don’t sell day old pastries. My training as a Swiss pastry chef also comes into play. There are a lot of our products that you only see in Europe, but since I know how to create them, I can train my staff on preparation and techniques.
You moved from Switzerland to America with only $350 to your name. You have taken your bakery and transformed it into a full-blown restaurant. How does it feel to have come so far in your culinary career?
Exhausting, to be honest. The food industry is a passionate profession. You have to give your heart and soul 100% of the time. Food is art, and chefs and pastry chefs are the artists. I am very grateful for the business and our customers, and I am honored to offer jobs to over 80 people in my community, but owning your own business is a lot of work and responsibility. I wouldn’t do it any other way, but in today’s day and age, so much of what I do has nothing to do with creating beautiful products. I have to worry about the rising cost of doing business in California.
I am humbled by the success, and I certainly did not achieve this alone. I have a great team that works beside me every day, including my wife and sons, so in that sense it is very rewarding to see Ettore’s grow into a successful family business. I am always looking ahead and never want to sit back and count my successes, as that is not a very Swiss thing to do. I enjoy pleasing our customers and offering great products, as that is my ultimate goal–to make beautiful and delicious products. We also continue to grow. Ettore’s has just partnered with a local upscale grocery chain to carry our cakes, and we will be able to reach even more customers. People love great food, and at the end of the day, that makes me proud and happy.
Find out more about Ettore and Ettore’s European Bakery here: