John Gendusa Bakery
Boston has its brown bread and San Francisco has its sourdough, but nothing beats New Orleans’ delicious French bread or poor boy bread. It’s the very heart and soul of any decent poor boy sandwich. And no one does a better loaf than John Gendusa Bakery in Gentilly.
The story goes, according to the company’s website, that: “John Gendusa Bakery first opened on September 24, 1922. By the end of that decade, baker John Gendusa and restauranteurs Bennie and Clovis Martin were tasked with finding an economical way to make a sandwich to feed striking streetcar workers. Inspired by his youth in Sicily, John Gendusa produced a long, uniform loaf of bread for the Martin Bros. From this loaf the poor boy sandwich was born. We have been producing our famous poor boy bread ever since."
Gendusa Bakery has been a family-run business for four generations. Monday through Saturday, the company’s loyal staff of 20 makes long loaves of French bread, pistolettes, muffuletta loaves and hamburger buns all in their 3,300-square-foot space at 2009 Mirabeau Ave.
“And we use every inch of it,” said Jason Gendusa, who co-owns the business with his father, John. “We make anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 loaves a day. We definitely put out some bread.”
The father and son duo are responsible for everything that keeps the business running: baking, office work, the repair of equipment and delivery trucks and more. His mother does all the accounting. Jason also lives next door to the bakery with his wife and two young children.
“If there’s a problem at 3 a.m., all I have to do is throw on some shoes, walk over and fix it, and I’m back in bed in 15 minutes.”
Jason always knew he’d be running the bakery one day, so while at college he majored in construction.
“I like to build things,” he said. “So I thought I’d take courses I’d enjoy. I did take some business management courses too.”
His construction skills and knowledge came in handy as he flipped a few houses after Katrina, got his family back in their homes and got the business up and running.
Jason says he likes what he’s doing because at the end of the day he knows people are enjoying their product.
“I wouldn’t want to make something people didn’t like,” he said. “The other day a neighbor came by and said she’d been living next door and never tried our bread, so I gave her a loaf. The next day she came back and said, ‘That’s the best bread I ever had.’ That’s why I love this job.”
He’s not the only one. While one of the bakery’s employees, Barry Ellis, was busy shaping muffulettas, getting them ready for their rise, he talked about his long-time employment with the Gendusas.
“Yea, I like what I do,” he said. “I must ‘cuz I’ve been here for 14 years.”
What Ellis said he likes the best is pulling the dough into the long loaves for the poor boy bread. He demonstrated by twisting his wrists back and forth and slowly widening his arms.
“The trick is in the wrists,” he said with a huge smile. “It’s my technique.”
Jason said the secret in making the famous bread is everywhere and it’s not such a big secret.
“My great grandfather had the recipe posted on the wall in his office and he’d tell people, ‘Go ahead copy it. Take a picture of it because you’ll have the recipe but you won’t be able to replicate it.’”
Jason’s said his favorite sandwich is a fried shrimp poor boy but quickly added with a twinkle in his eyes, “Any sandwich is my favorite, if it’s on the right bread.”
As I got ready to leave the interview, Jason handed me a fresh loaf of bread. We shook hands and he was back to work.
But Shaun Martin, who says he’s worked at the bakery all of his life, caught my attention as I opened the bakery’s screen door to say: “Replicate. You just can’t replicate this bread.”
Gendusa John Bakery, Inc
2009 Mirabeau Ave.