Meet Ivana Bruschi, owner of a charming bakery in Florence for more than 60 years. Here’s her story, filled with bread, memories and well-earned wisdom.
Many of us can’t wait to retire, but not Ivana Bruschi, who has run Forno Canapa di Bruschi Ivana, a bite-sized bakery in Florence’s San Lorenzo neighborhood, for over 60 years. Ivana started as hired help, quickly becoming the protégé of then-owner, Ida Gabellini Canapa, who sold her the bakery in 1966.
Perhaps an untimely purchase, just six months before a historic flood swept through the city, filling basements and ground floors with water and mud. So, shortly after buying the bakery, Ivana found herself cleaning and gutting the tiny space, and remodeling within weeks of its destruction.
Today, the Forno Canapa di Bruschi Ivana is a tiny slice of Via dell’Ariento, steps from the Mercato Centrale, producing an impressive variety and quantity of savory and sweet baked goods. At most, eight clients can squeeze inside for their daily purchase, its narrow front room a showcase for stacks of biscotti, piles of breads, and heaps of freshly baked pastries. The glorious smell of it all fills the confined space.
The walls are plastered in awards from the mayor, the neighborhood, and the chamber of commerce. One award in particular was given to Ivana at Palazzo Vecchio on her birthday, March 25, which just happens to be the Florentine New Year. This writer knows Ivana’s actual age but is not allowed to tell.
Ivan’s younger brother, Remo, is in charge of baking and deliveries, while she runs the show. Ivana charms and entertains from behind the counter, while Remo darts around San Lorenzo with giant yields of bread in tow. Luciano and Giulia, Ivana’s son and granddaughter, also help out. This is a family-owned and operated shop per eccellenza.
Yet their family extends much further than flesh and blood. Locals come back day after day for a slice of this or that and chats with Ivana, who spreads her love through carbs and conversation.
I recently sat down to discover more about Ivana. Over the years she has met my boyfriends and relatives, yet I knew very little about her life beyond the shop.
When did you start working here?
Let’s see… in ’58.
Did you ever imagine you’d one day own this bakery?
No. I’d never thought of it. Everything happened so fast because the owner needed to retire. I liked the idea, because I knew everything about this bakery. I was managing the shop. She had an enormous amount of trust in me. She’d even leave signed checks and have me pay the vendors.
Only six months after you bought this bakery, the big flood hit.
I bought the bakery in June of 1966. And on November 4, the flood came.
Describe the bakery after the flood.
Terrible. But all of Florence was quick to clean up. From cleaning to painting, we re-opened in a matter of ten to 15 days. You should have seen the mess in here. Back then, ovens were powered by diesel fuel, so it was everywhere, a black film coating everything. We put our boots on and got to work, cleaning day and night.
How far was the water level? Above your head?
Oh, yes (she stands, showing me). The water was up to here. See? Above my head. It was quite high.
I often see Remo on deliveries nearby. How many places in San Lorenzo use your breads?
About ten. At least ten, maybe more.
What hours do you keep?
In the early days, I came in at 6:30 a.m., and left at 9 p.m., sometimes even later. For many years. Eventually I reduced my hours, but essentially my life has been this shop. I opened, and I closed.
What’s your favorite thing in the bakery?
All our savory items. We really have a large assortment.
Is it true you go to the hairdresser every week?
Yes. Once a week. I’ve never missed an appointment. Never! My hair day is Friday.
What else do you do when you’re not here?
I’ve been on beautiful vacations. Things have gone well. In the last few years, I had some health problems, but the force of will to work drew me back. Because my life is this shop.
There’s barely any wall space to hang another award. You’ll have to take the mirror down if you get another one!
(Laughing) True. I’ve received many. I get one practically every year. The most recent was on the day of San Lorenzo, August 10. I’m very proud and happy because I’ve put my passion into this shop.
You’ve seen babies grow into adulthood one day at a time.
(Grinning nostalgically) Yes. I’ve seen a little girl, when she was just a newborn, then she’s grown up, she’s engaged, married, had her own children, and then they grew up and had children. That’s what, three generations?
You and this bakery survived the flood of 1966 and the lockdown of 2020.
I’ve seen Florence when it was destroyed, when it was empty. Not even a person walking on the streets. But now we’re back.
Most people would have retired by now. Why haven’t you?
I can’t live life at home. I find it terribly boring to stay home. My life is here, and I’ll be here as long as I can.
The next time you are in Florence, visit Ivana and Remo at Via Dell’Ariento 21R.
Until then, follow them on Instagram.