There were 20 Zaro’s bakeries in Bronx in the 1970s, but they closed over the decades as sales declined, according to the Zaro family. In Co-op City, a sprawling development, residents still remember the Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor as a teenager working in the local Zaro’s.
Joseph Zaro, who is co-chief executive officer of Zaro’s with his older brother, Stuart, and a grandson of the founder, said that many people grew up on Zaro’s breads. One woman told him that she learned math by figuring out how much rye bread — which sold by the pound — she could buy with $1. “When you hear the Zaro’s name, everybody tells us a story,” said Mr. Zaro, whose first job as a boy was assembling cardboard boxes at the Parkchester bakery. “Everybody has a connection.”
In later years, Zaro’s shifted its business to commuter hubs with the opening of a Zaro’s in a baggage claim area in Grand Central Terminal in 1977. Soon it became the place for commuters to grab their morning coffee and buttered bagels. Others came by in the evenings for challah, cheesecake or brownies to take home.
“We were really the first one selling quality food in the train terminal,” said Stuart Zaro. “People used to fight to get to the counter. They would elbow and jostle — they still do.”
In a 1977 review in The New York Times, the food critic Mimi Sheraton wrote about Zaro’s thriving business at Grand Central, though she also noted: “A tasting of an assortment of Mr. Zaro’s wares proved their appeal to be more a matter of convenience than distinction.”
Stuart Zaro said the company has wanted to expand its base in Bronx, where about half of the company’s 300 workers live. One of his sons, Brian, reached out to their former landlord and the company signed a lease for a bakery in the same building where the last one was located (that spot is now taken by a Boston Market).
“It means a lot to us because this is where our roots are,” Mr. Zaro said.
The new bakeries will be supplied by Zaro’s factory in Port Morris, which opened in 1982 after outgrowing a smaller production site nearby. Zaro’s goes through 1.5 million pounds of flour annually — making 1.5 million bagels, 350,000 black-and-white cookies and 100,000 loaves of challah, among other things — according to Michael Zaro, the chief operating officer of Zaro’s and another son of Stuart Zaro’s.
On a recent morning, the scent of cinnamon and chocolate wafted across the factory floor. Racks of pastries and cakes rotated slowly in a bank of industrial-size ovens, while nearby pans of brownies cooled. Rugelach was rolled, filled with chopped nuts and spices, and cut into chunks on an assembly line. Black-and-white cookies were iced by hand.
Ruben Diaz Jr., the Bronx borough president, stopped by for a tour of the factory earlier this month, donning a white jacket and hairnet to braid challah.
“In one form or another, Zaro’s has been a Bronx institution for 90 years,” Mr. Diaz said. “Their return to Parkchester, and subsequent expansion in Port Morris, shows the Zaro family’s continued commitment to our borough is strong and their company understands our ongoing positive transformation.”
For Omar Singleton, 40, a utility worker, the new bakery in Parkchester will mean having fresh-made breads. He usually settles for the prepackaged loaves at the supermarket because he does not have time to go out of his way to a bakery.
“I could pick it up on the way to work or from work,” he said. “I’d enjoy it more.”