This page avenue’s italian delicacies have achieved mythic status… on the island and beyond
by Susan Lunny Keag • Photos by Alex Barreto
As a little girl, Justine Campitiello remembers visiting her dad, Vincent, at Alfonso’s Pastry Shoppe, their family business, a few days a week after school. There, she could sample the freshly made pastries and treats—a wonderful perk when one’s dad is a baker.
“I’d dip my fingers in the custards and crème,” she recalled with a laugh about visiting her father at work. Though her favorite treats were definitely the cookies. “There’s nothing like a fresh butter cookie out of the oven!”
While Campitiello would help out as a young girl, particularly around the busy holidays, she never would have imagined that today she would be heading up operations at its newest storefront on Page Avenue in Richmond Valley. Baking, of course, was in Campitiello’s genes, as it was her grandfather Alfonso Campitiello who began the business back in 1970 on Manor Road. He later moved the bakery to Victory Boulevard in 1978, and Meiers Corners bakery is now run by Justine’s uncle Anthony Campitiello. Alfonso’s quickly became a local favorite and even gained national recognition when the storefront was featured in the 1983 movie Easy Money. (While the name of the business was different, Joe Pesci and Rodney Dangerfield did carry out an actual Alfonso’s cake!).
Still, Justine Campitiello thought long and hard before coming to work in the family enterprise, particularly at the advice of her dad Vincent, who runs Alfonso’s Pastry Shoppe’s Great Kills location on Amboy Road.
“He was never one to push me; he said you have to find this passion on your own. You have to find something you love to do,” she recalled.
After studying to be a teacher at college and trying various jobs, Campitiello realized that she had already found the career she wanted.
“I realized I can’t pick a career because it’s here. My job was here. This was it…100 percent,” she said.
Of course, for Campitiello, running Alfonso’s on Page Avenue since it opened seven months ago isn’t just work; she sees it more like spending time with family.
“Working with my dad and learning from him has been great,” she said. While Campitiello has always seen how hard her dad works, she admits she’s developed a “new respect” for him.
“I see what he does and I’m like, ‘Wow….my dad is awesome!” she said. “It’s not a job. It’s a life.”
Campitiello added that it’s been great to “bounce ideas back and forth off each other.” One example is making sure the bakery has options for all customers, including those who have dietary restrictions. Having celiac disease herself, she is keen to keep in mind customers who live gluten free.
“We have gluten-free cheesecakes and cookies that are flourless. Cannoli cookies are flourless. Pignoli cookies are naturally flourless,” she said.
While new ideas are always welcome, Campitiello said she’s learned some customers favorites that will always be staples at Alfonso’s, despite any latest baking fad.
What’s one customer favorite?
“Without a shadow of a doubt, no ifs, ands or buts about it….it’s the cannoli,” she said.
Customers like Beatrice Maxwell of Eltingville agree.
“My favorite thing about Alfonso’s is their pastries, especially the cannolis!” Maxwell said. “Whenever you serve or give them to friends or family, you know they will love them. I have never been disappointed.”
Another popular seller, said Campitiello, is the rainbow cookie. “It’s just amazing…a tried and true fan favorite.”
In addition to cookies, Alfonso’s is also known for a variety of breads and cakes, from mousse cakes to traditional.
“Every year I get my brother-in-law birthday cake [at Alfonso’s] when they come in for the holidays from Chicago,” said Maxwell, who also enjoys the olive bread.
“I’m even getting people from New Jersey who come over the bridge. They tell me, ‘I miss my Alfonso’s,’” Campitiello said with a laugh. “There are some customers we see here every single day,” she said. “You know, we are a part of their homes, their holidays, their lives.”
While a 70-hour work week may be a downside to running a bakery, it’s easier to overlook when you enjoy your job, Campitiello explained. “I really love what I do…just feel wonderful coming to work.”
Alfonso’s Pastry Shoppe
35 Page Ave. / 718.948.2420
4366 Amboy Road / 718.984.8011 / alfonsospastryshoppe.com