Donato’s Bakery is a family business located on a corner next to Renco Foods. Owned by brothers Jamey and Donny Bruno, the neighborhood bakery has become one of Thunder Bay’s best local purveyors of artisan foods.
For over 28 years Donny has worked the “night shift” baking breads, scones, tarts and pastries for his daily customers. Adjacent to his large bread ovens is a small stove where he bubbles up a large pot of traditional homemade marinara sauce, every day. It was this sauce pot that was discovered by the large supermarket chain Metro, which launched Donato’s sauce into the larger grocery market through Metro’s locally sourced program.
For the second time since 2019, Metro invited Donato’s Bakery to participate in its Spotlight on Local initiative, where Donato’s sauce was featured in Toronto at The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.
This year, Donato’s marinara sauce took home the fair’s People’s Choice award for the second time.
Linda DeLuca, a member of Donato’s bakery team, attended the fair to promote Donato’s marinara sauce as part of the Metro exhibit.
“We sold ourselves,” he said. “We had 46 boxes and we sold them all.”
DeLuca handed out samples of the marinara sauce that quickly became a favorite among fairgoers and attendees.
“It’s a pretty basic sauce,” he said. “Kids love it. In fact, one child took seven samples and ate them right there.”
“The sauce is an ancient variation on a recipe from the beginning of time,” said Jamey Bruno. “We had the sauce for years. Metro wanted to do something with local businesses, so we took the original recipe for the sauce and did several tests. We sent it to a university to be analyzed and get all the nutritional values. We made a label, stuck it on a jar, and took it to Metro and Safeway.”
Bruno says his marinara sauce has been sold at the Safeway and Metro supermarket chains since 2018 and can be found on the shelves at Renco Foods, Centennial Foods, Maltese Grocery, Fresco’s Deli and George’s Market.
“The only people who didn’t want it was Walmart,” he said.
Meanwhile, transporting the heavy flasks has proven challenging.
“It’s a very good exposure for our product in southern Ontario. . . but it is impossible to send it because it is very heavy, ”he said. “I can barely ship myself to Nipigon, so I can’t get it anywhere else beyond Thunder Bay.”
The bakery operates six days a week, and the sauce is made daily on the small stove. The brothers and their staff fill 48 sauce boats daily, sealing and labeling them by hand. A second product produced at the bakery is a blend of spices that they also hand-pack and label on site.
“The spices we use are exactly the spices we use in the sauce. . . and it just so happens that it works amazingly as a garnish on pizza or meat. It’s wicked,” he said. “Maybe the secret is that it doesn’t contain sodium; you have to add that yourself.”