Baking was Vincent De Angelo's first passion. That and pastries. He started baking at age 16. Eight years later, he was baking professionally at the Helmsley Hotel in New York City.
"I did that before cooking," he recalled.
Now he's going back to his first love.
Bella Luna Bakery and Cafe will open Jan. 5 in the former De Angelo's location at 350 W. Main St.
An electrical fire burned down his restaurant at that spot in August 2010. Almost two months later, he moved the restaurant to a spot at the Ramada Inn on Childs Avenue. The bakery and cafe will be an extension of De Angelo's restaurant and carry gourmet foods from the eatery such as salads, lasagna, sauces, dressings, meatballs and sandwiches.
It will also carry pastries, cakes and Italian breads, feature a big kitchen and an open space with tables and chairs that can seat 70 people.
"We kept the restaurant out there because we have the added marketing of the freeway and hotels," he said. But he didn't forget about the downtown locale.
The 4,000-square-foot bakery and cafe cost more than $600,000, and will employ four people in the kitchen and eight in the dining room.
De Angelo has been working on fixing up the bakery for four months. A portion of its front room will look like a slice of Northern Italy, he said, complete with a fountain, strings of lights, brick walls and solar lights in the ceiling.
"It will create a feeling of being in a Tuscan courtyard," he said.
There's an oven straight from Italy for baking breads and an area for grab-and-go and take-and-bake displays featuring products from his Italian restaurant.
"I'm opening the place as if I'm opening it in New York," he said, quick to add that the prices would be "Merced prices."
It will be a family- and student-friendly place, he said.
Beginning in the new year, De Angelo's won't have lunches or brunches. Instead, breakfast, brunch and lunch will be offered at Bella Luna, he said.
De Angelo said his bakery will offer catering, authentic Italian and European breads, catering, and the courtyard space can be rented for family and social gatherings.
He described the array of the food as "across the board."
In terms of competition on Main Street, he said, "I wish everybody well in the business. We can make everything here because we ensure the quality. It's all about the food when you come here."
The bakery will be open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.
Reporter Ameera Butt can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.