Share the Bread: Orlando Baking and Hunger Network team up to feed struggling restaurant workers

The Orlando family and Orlando Baking Company have been in the Buckeye-Woodland neighborhood since 1904. Vincenzo and Giuseppe Orlando came to Cleveland from Castel di Sangro, Italy to create old-world bread recipes they learned from their father, who founded Orlando Baking in 1892.

Nearly 117 years later, Orlando CEO and president John Anthony Orlando carries on the family tradition by baking and distributing breads to retailers and restaurants across the Greater Cleveland area, Ohio, and parts of eastern Michigan and western New York.

John Anthony Orlando Orlando has seen the ups and downs of the restaurant and bakery business over the years, so when the pandemic started affecting the industry, he knew he wanted to do something to help. According to the National Restaurant Association, more than 100,000 bars and restaurants nationwide have closed permanently or long-term because of the coronavirus.

“We have lots of relationships and friends [in the restaurant industry] and we see how it’s affecting everyone,” says Orlando. One out of six [restaurants] closed permanently during this pandemic. It’s just put a strain on the restaurant industry.”

Orlando says he and his family knew they had to do something to help. “These restaurants are serving our bread every day, and they support us every day,” he says. “How can we not support them when they are going through hard times?”

So last Tuesday, Feb. 2 Orlando Baking and the Hunger Network of Cleveland teamed up and launched Share the Bread—Build the Hope Restaurant Workers Relief Fund initiative. The campaign is designed to help restaurant owners, chefs, staff, and others in the food service industry during this crisis.

With every purchase of any Orlando product, the company will donate a portion of the proceeds to the Share the Bread initiative. “We felt we had to support people in need right now—and there are a lot of people in need,” says Orlando, who did not disclose what portion of the proceeds they are donating. “We didn’t want to put a goal on it because we don’t know how long this is going to last. We don’t know what the need is, but there definitely is a need.”

All Orlando products now have a QR code on the packaging, directing customers to the campaign site.

Hannah Westfall, marketing and communications manager for the Hunger Network, says every little bit counts. “Our team is hoping to raise $50,000 to feed local service industry workers who have been affected by the pandemic,” she says. “Potential for a matching gift coupled with the outpouring of generosity from our Cleveland community makes us believe that we can reach $50,000. Every donation—no matter what amount—makes a big difference for our neighbors facing food insecurity.”

In one week, the campaign has raised more than $3,000 in individual donations.

Julie Johnson, CEO of the Hunger Network, says food insecurity has become a growing issue in the last year, especially among those employed by the foodservice industry. “A lot of unemployed and underemployed service and restaurant workers have never had to access a food pantry before,” Johnson says. “There’s [now] a big awareness of food access.”

Hunger NetworkJohnson reports that the Hunger Network has 73 hunger centers in Cuyahoga County, which includes 50 pantries and 23 hot meal sites. “We’ve added four pantries in the last few months,” she adds.

Additionally, Johnson says women make up most of the foodservice industry and are therefore the most affected by food insecurity—with 54% of Hunger Network food pantry clients being women. Of those, 30% are under age 18, 41% are ages 19 to 59, and 29% are 60 years or older.

“One reason this campaign is so important is because so many women are impacted by this,” says Johnson. “Women traditionally attend the pantry. And meal services have risen 58% to 60% in 2020 over 2019.”

Jim Cox, who spent 14 years as executive chef for Mr. Hero and now is a chef consultant for Orlando, identifies with the many industry people who are hurting right now. “As a chef, I have a little different relationship— It’s kind of like family,” he says. “It’s a tough industry anyway, but when all this went down, I called a lot of my friends I worked with to let them know I was here for them. Like everyone, they tried to adapt to the situation.”

But, Cox says, adaptation is hard when you are food insecure. “Everyone I know, it’s their livelihood,” he explains. “There are kids involved, family involved, and you have to start to have to let it go. You have staff you’ve worked with for 30 years and then you have to cut hours or let them go.”

Orlando customer service manager Michelle Monaco says family-owned, local companies like Orlando may also be hurting financially from the pandemic’s wrath, but the company and the family wants to help those who are hurting the most. 

“I’ve been working with Orlando Baking Company for nearly 13 years and have experienced their generosity firsthand,” she says. “I love the way the family gives back to the community—they are most generous—[with] donations, gift baskets, left over bread. Their heart is in the right place and the Share the Bread initiative is just another example of their kindness.”

All donations to the Share the Bread campaign are tax deductible. Restaurant workers who need food assistance can fill out this form for help.

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.