Humble Grains to Great Bread

Vastese Bakery is a culmination of 54 years of family history, a drive for quality, and good old fashioned hard work by the founder, Giuseppe Saraceni, and his family. Here’s a little bit more on how the business came to be and how it got to where it is.

  1. Joe (Giuseppe) was born in 1922 in Vasto, Italy to Antonio and Rosa Saraceni, being the second child in the family of seven children including Carmela, Giuseppe, Michele, Nicola, Liberata, Maria and Anna.

    Lucia was born in 1922 to Nicola and Elizabetta Saraceni also in Vasto, being the sixth child in the family of seven children including Cesario, Almerinda, Michele, Luigi, Rosina, Lucia and Anna.

    They met at the age of six as Joe’s sister Carmela and Lucia were friends, playing together at each other’s homes as they lived 500 metres apart in neighbouring houses.

    Joe and Lucia along with their families socialised together and they decided to marry on September 4, 1947.

    Life was tough in Italy, as it was around the world, and families worked the land to make ends meet. The families of Lucia and Giuseppe, (Joe to family and friends), all had the fighting spirit that was required to survive those years.

    They worked a small farm in the Vasto region in central Italy – near the Adriatic coast but due to the era they struggled to make a living. They leased and share farmed the land, so whatever they grew, a percentage went to the owners of the land as payment for the land.

    In 1951 Joe and Lucia decided that a better future was to be found in Australia. Joe’s younger brother Michele (Mick to family and friends) was already living in Western Australia as he had left Vasto late in 1949 arriving in WA in January 1950. Joe and his younger brother Nicola (Nick to family and friends) borrowed the money for their ship passage from a money lender in the town.

  2. Giuseppe and Nicola Saraceni

    Both brothers had heard from their father what Australia was like as he had gone to Australia in 1926 working in York for approximately two years and then returned to Italy.

    In 1951, they set sail from Naples on the ‘Surriento’ ship bound for Fremantle and a new life. The ship arrived in Gage Roads on the early morning of June 8, 1951, but they had to wait for a doctor to board due to a breakout of Typhoid Fever. Once the doctor was onboard he realised the sick passengers should be removed from the ship and taken to isolation after which they allowed the ship to proceed to the dock. When they arrived in Fremantle they carried a small suitcase with everything they owned.

    They were known as ‘New Settlers’ and upon arrival were met by their brother Mick. They travelled south to Manjimup where Joe worked in a timber mill and a dairy farm in the area, while for a short time Nick worked on a tobacco plantation and then worked with Mick growing potatoes on the land they leased. Saving every penny and sending it back to Italy to repay the money lender was their priority; once this loan was repaid Joe sent the money for his wife Lucia’s passage to join him in Australia. Joe worked at Manjimup for about eight months until he knew his wife was coming to Australia and then he returned to Perth.

    A young Tony working hard

    Lucia departed Naples in late March 1952, arriving in WA on April 22, 1952 onboard the ‘Ravello’. When Lucia arrived in Fremantle she travelled by bus to Woodman Point for a health clearance. This took about two hours after which the bus returned the passengers to ‘Shed 8’ at the Port of Fremantle where Joe was waiting to greet his wife.

    Joe and Lucia lived in Francis Street, Perth (now Northbridge) sharing a house with another family for about one year. On his return to Perth Joe worked at the Maylands brickyard until mid 1957. In 1953 they rented a modest timber shack and surrounding land to establish a market garden in Herdsman Parade Wembley. The home consisted of two bedrooms and a kitchen, no bathroom or laundry and all the washing was done by hand using water boiled in a copper for washing and bathing. This was home to Joe, Lucia, Nick, Mick and his wife Anna (Lina) and their baby son Anthony (Tony) who was born in 1953. Joe saved enough money to buy his first car which was a Holden FX Sedan.

    The housing inspector came one day and told them that Mick, Lina and the baby could not live there and must move out. Not knowing what to do Joe went to the bank to see if he could afford a house with the 500 pounds he had saved.

    They found a big house at 535 Fitzgerald Street, North Perth which consisted of two large bedrooms, two small bedrooms, a lounge, a dining room, a large kitchen and a veranda all along the back of the house which is where the laundry and bathroom was situated. This was purchased by Joe and Mick with a loan from the National Australia Bank for approximately £3,000 pounds.

    This house that Joe and Mick purchased was home to Joe, Lucia, Mick and Lina and their children along with their brother Nick. Lucia stayed home and looked after the children while Lina went out to work. Lucia gave birth to their son Antonio Luigi (Tony) on August 24, 1955. Late in 1955 Mick sold his share of the house to Joe and Lucia as his family was growing and they needed their own home.

    He purchased bread daily from two bakeries, one in North Perth and the other in East Perth.

    The first van he had for deliveries was a Holden FJ Panel Van. The price that he paid for the bread was sixpence and he sold it for about eight or nine pence (which is about eight cents today). Their second son Luigi Nicola (Lou) was born on July 6, 1958.

    After leaving the brickyard in 1957 Joe started a home delivery service of Italian bread which he called ‘Vastese’ after the Italian town he was born in.

  3. The original Vastese Holden Panel vans

    Joe was not happy with the quality of the bread he was delivering and he believed he could make better bread so he searched for a property to rent in order to be able to produce his own bread products. Joe went into partnership with Cesare Tanna and commenced making bread from the rental premises on Newcastle Street in Northbridge in 1958.

    The partnership between Joe and Cesare only lasted for one year. They had the business valued by the accountant at £300 pounds. As Joe and Lucia could see the potential for the business they decided to buy Cesare’s share. Not having the money to buy out Cesare, Joe arranged with the flour mills to delay payment of his flour account.

    The only equipment in this first bakery was a mixer, one oven and two troughs for the dough to rise in. The first handmade breads were the Franzone (Italian loaf) and an Italian long roll which today are known as Banana rolls (9-inch long crusty rolls).

    In the very early years the weekend shift for Joe consisted of working 36 hours straight, mixing, handmoulding the bread, baking and deliveries for the weekend. He would mix, bake, deliver, start mixing again for weekend baking then deliver – two times over.

    The first baker to start working for Vastese Bakery was Ermando Piscicelli who started in late 1959 and continued to work for Vastese Bakery until his retirement from full time work in 1986. Until his final retirement from all work in 1999 Ermando continued to mix dough each night for Vastese Bakery.

    Nicola Saraceni

    In 1961 Joe and Lucia heard of an old bakery at 120 Alma Road, North Perth that had been vacant for seven years with an old house beside which was suitable to live in. In order to buy this at the asking price of £5,400 pounds they needed to sell the house at 535 Fitzgerald Street, North Perth. They did this for £4,400 pounds and the rest of the money was provided by vendor finance from the owner.

    The bakery in Alma Road consisted of one mixer and two brick ovens (Scotch Ovens) and the price of a small Franzone loaf was just 10 cents. After purchasing the bakery Joe then purchased from the Bullsbrook Bakery an oil fired double-decker oven and later they obtained another double-decker oven from Sydney. Joe’s first apprentice was Michael Fairweather from 1964 to 1969. While there were other apprentices before this they didn’t last long. Going back over the wage books from 1960 there are many itinerant people who would work for a few days or weeks and then leave.

    In 1964 Joe together with his two brothers Mick and Nick and sisters Carmela and Maria, who now lived in Perth, sponsored their parents Antonio and Rosa to come out to Australia.

    The families paid for their passage and kept them as they were not entitled to any health benefits or pensions for the first 10 years.

    Every morning Antonio would come to the bakery and chop the wood for the Scotch Oven. Antonio and Rosa lived in Australia for the rest of their lives with their daughter Carmela and husband Alfredo with Antonio passing away in 1985 and Rosa in 1988.

  4. Managing Director Tony Saraceni said the bakery is completely modernised but still uses the traditional Italian methods his parents originated with their first handmoulded loaves.

    Lou and Tony posing

    In 1967 Joe and Lucia purchased the house next door at 122 Alma Road, North Perth for $9,000 and moved in straight away. They demolished the old house to make room for the rebuilding of the bakery which cost $28,000 to make it what it is today. This took over a year and the end result was a house with three bedrooms, lounge, dining room and large kitchen above the bakery which Joe, Lucia and their two sons Tony and Lou lived in until they moved to a house they built in Stirling in 1983.

    Over the years various things happened - bakers went on strike as they were not being paid penalties for working night shifts.

    In 1973 Tony commenced working for his father at the bakery. In 1980 Nick’s eldest son Pasquale (known as Tony also) came to work for the bakery and is now the Production Manager. In 1982 Joe and Lucia formed a company Saraceni Enterprises. Then in 1982 the flour millers went on strike which resulted in the Government introducing the Emergency Act which allowed flour to be delivered by trucks from Midland Brick.

    In February 1988 Lou joined his brother Tony in the company as Dispatch Manager in charge of the truck drivers, deliveries and general maintenance.

    The ovens were changed from oil fired to natural gas in 1992 and in 1993 the boiler also changed over to natural gas. The bakery installed a natural gas fire rack oven at a cost of $27,000 imported from Italy in 1993 and in 1994 computers were introduced into the office at a cost of $25,000. While computerisation cost the company a total of $100,000 – over the years it has been beneficial to the overall enterprise.

    1995 was the last year house to house deliveries were carried out and the mixers and mixing bowls were upgraded at a cost of $157,000 all imported from Italy.

    Joe and Lucia sold the business to their sons Tony and Lou in 1996 and the company was renamed Vasbake Pty Ltd.

    In 2005 the business had a complete plant and machinery upgrade at a total cost of $200,000 and today the bakery operates using imported equipment from Italy and continues to bake the best bread in WA. In 2011, the plant was further upgraded with a state of the art, Italian-built roll moulder.