“What is food if it’s not about family and friends?”
Mena Castriciano has been asking herself this very question since she was a young girl. Castriciano was born in rural Calabria, Italy, and immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 12. She grew up creating and sharing authentic Italian cuisine with family and friends alike. That love for the culinary arts eventually blossomed into a thriving business and Lansing staple.
The first in her family to graduate from high school in America, Mena Castriciano met and married baker and fellow immigrant Sostine Castriciano. Together they made both of their families’ dreams come true by opening Roma Bakery in 1969, becoming Lansing’s home for all things authentic and imported.
Their in-house bakery and deli sells a variety of meats, sweets, pasta, cheeses, spices and so much more. Roma Bakery has been family owned and operated for 50 years with three generations of the Castriciano family working at and behind the counters to keep things running smoothly. They continue carrying on a tradition of hard work and culinary appreciation that seeps into everything they make.
Their work is so much more than that, though. From teaching cooking classes to gifting holiday treats, Mena and her family have been sharing their culture and traditions with the Greater Lansing area since they first came to America. During the 1980s and ‘90s, Mena would set up a special area in the store to demonstrate how to slice, simmer and sauté authentic Italian dishes, and even today you can ask her or any employee for suggestions on what pairs well or how best to spice up a meal.
Above all, Roma Bakery is an experience. When you walk through the doors, you’re immediately swept up in the sights, sounds and, most importantly, smells of Italy. Every aisle is packed with every possible ingredient. You won’t find a brand name on these shelves, at least not one you’ll recognize.
The deli is stacked with traditional meats and cheeses from every corner of the globe, and they have new items all of the time. Behind the checkout stands a wall of herbs and spices, which can be bought wholesale or prepackaged. But the real star of the show is the bakery display. A veritable smorgasbord of delicacies, they sell everything from traditional Italian treats like cannolis and cannoncinis, to traditional classics like sugar cookies and fruit tarts. The best part is that everything is made in-house from scratch. They also make elaborate wedding cakes and intricately detailed mascarpone decorative desserts.
If you’re looking for a quick bite, you can grab a cup of classic espresso and sit down in the deli area with a slice of traditional pizza or handmade sandwiches. And if you really can’t get enough, you can pick up a copy of their recipe book, “Cooking with Mena,” which details the family’s history and the founding of the bakery, along with every kind of recipe under the sun.
“I’ve just been so blessed,” said Mena. “I love people and I love to cook. God has given me both.”
So the next time you’re in the mood for some classic Italian desserts, or you want to spice up your cooking with a little hometown flavor, stop by Roma Bakery and let Mena and her family take care of you.