Dolci Amori, an Italian bakery owned by Ciro Longobardo (who’s also a co-owner of the Italian restaurant Piccolo Sogno in the Fulton River District) has been a work in progress for more than two years. First the pandemic hit. Then the pastry chef couldn’t immigrate from Naples to Chicago because the borders were closed. Then there was a long wait for equipment and inspections. Then Longobardo had a stroke. And then his mother died.
After this long string of catastrophes, Dolci Amori is finally ready to open not one, but two cafes in mid-June, first in Wicker Park and then in Lakeview. “Mama mia!” Longobardo exclaims. “It’s the end of the tunnel!”
The inspiration for Dolci Amori is twofold. Longobardo was nostalgic for his teenage years in Naples when he and his brother would go to their local bakery and bring back half a kilo of pastries to eat for Sunday lunch. As an adult in Chicago, he noticed that Italian American bakeries had failed to keep pace with innovations in the motherland.
“I think the Italian bakery [in America] never really changed,” he says. “We made changes in the Italian restaurant. Thirty or 40 years ago, it was spaghetti and meatballs. Now there’s homemade pasta with white truffles. But the bakeries are still old-fashioned. I have an idea why it’s not here yet: Some of the ingredients are very expensive and workers are hard to find. I’m doing the best I can to slowly bring some of these new items to see how the people will receive them.”
The pastry chef, Pasquale Lucci, arrived from Naples just a month and a half ago and is still getting used to American ingredients, but Longobardo says Lucci’s work takes him back to his own childhood. Among the pastries they will introduce to Chicago are fiocco de neve, “snowflakes” of pan brioche stuffed with cream and ricotta; via col vento, rings of choux pastry known as “gone with the wind” for their lightness; and “lobster tails” made of thin leaves of pastry stuffed with cream. There won’t be a menu; instead, the offerings will vary from day to day, and customers can choose from the pastry case. There will also be coffee, a custom blend from Caffe Umbria.
The Wicker Park location, at the corner of Pierce and Division, is just 900 square feet: a 12-foot pastry case makes the cafe’s focus quite obvious. The Lakeview location, at Clark and Wellington, is nearly twice as large — 1,700 square feet — and will have more seating and serve light lunches, including salads and savory Neapolitan snacks like arancini, pizzetta, and croquettes. Longobardo has also signed a lease on a third location in the Gold Coast that will open later this year.
Dolci Amori will remain separate from Piccolo Sogno, though if customers at the restaurant ask for cakes, sometimes the bakery will provide them. (Previously, Piccolo Sogno would order from Alliance Bakery). There are also catering and wholesale operations, both of which started in 2021; Dolci Amori is currently providing pastry for Goddess and the Grocer, Plum Market, and assorted coffee shops around town, and Longobardo says he’s also in talks with Mariano’s.
The difficulties over the past two years have made Longobardo philosophical. Even before the pandemic, he was committed to the bakery — he invested $600,000 of his own money in the project and applied for and received a $1 million small business loan — but he’s aware that these have not been good times for bakers. The cost of ingredients has gone up, which has led to the closing of several venerable Chicago-area bakeries in the past few years, including the Swedish Bakery in Andersonville, Gladstone Bakery in Elk Grove Village, and, just this past weekend, Dinkel’s Bakery in North Center. “How much can you charge for a pastry at the end of the day?” he asks.
Dolci Amori, though, isn’t about the money. Piccolo Sogno, he says, is a comfortable-enough business. A bakery was something he wanted to do. Since his stroke, like many people who have experienced serious health scares, he’s been wondering why he was lucky enough to survive. His doctor told him that most of the blood from the burst vein stayed in the bottom of his brain, which was why he had no further damage.
“I’m too much trouble up here,” he jokes. “That’s why I’m alive. But I want to see something good come out of this. If someone tells me, ‘Ciro, I had a great pastry from Dolci Amori,’ that will be enough. That will make me happy.”
But he’ll be even happier if Chicagoans get into the habit of bringing half-kilos of Italian pastry to Sunday lunch.
Dolce Amori, 2010 W. Pierce Avenue and 3025 N. Clark Street, opening mid-June; 1150 N. State Street, opening late 2022.