A Conversation With Ralph Bova
By Drayton Mayers
Family life is extremely important in the world of Italians, both in Italy and right here in Boston’s North End. Tucked away on the cobblestone littered streets of one of Boston’s oldest neighborhoods sits Bova’s Bakery. The family owned bakeshop first opened its doors in 1932, offering breads, cookies and sandwiches 24 hours a day. The Salem street icon is a regular weekend destination for college students like myself, the cannoli is unmatched and the service is truly exceptional. At any given hour of the day Bova’s could be slammed with customers, all trying to discover the food that has become commonplace for Bostonians.
I had the opportunity to meet with Ralph Bova, the son of Anthony Bova and one of the leading players in the bakery. On a daily basis he is constantly working to produce quality food for all who enjoy a sold slice of Sicilian pizza, or an Oreo-filled Cannoli that would make anyone’s mouth water just a little bit. Ralph Bova agreed to the interview, but asked to keep it more personal and to the point, like any Italian would.
The following transcript was from our conversation together, standing outside of the North End establishment on a cold day in early December.
Describe your time while working at Bova’s
RB: It’s a job that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. The people I meet on a daily basis only inspire me to continue doing what I do at Bova’s. The people love our pastries and pizza, and I speak for the entire bakery when I say that we love making the food for the customer. Sure, at times the job can be tough, being open 24-hours isn’t always that easy, but it is a tradition that we will always keep.
How did you first start at the Bakery?
RB: (Laughs) Well I sort of knew the owner, and after a couple of trys I finally landed the job. (Laughs) No, my father started me cutting dough and prepping food when I was just a boy. His father started him young so it only seemed natural to have me working in the kitchen I guess. I always wanted to work the register, but that job was usually saved for my sisters, mainly my mother. I was always in the back preparing food to be put out. The jobs I did usually involved a bit of manual labor, but prepared me for the years ahead.
Has Bova’s changed since you first started?
RB: You know in some ways it has, but I think largely we have stuck to our originals ways. For a long time, we didn’t even take credit cards, something that we added recently. It’s as the saying goes, ‘Don’t fix what ain’t broken’. As long as the food continues to taste as amazing as it always has been I don’t think we’ll be changing anything.
Would Bova’s work anywhere else other than the North End?
RB: Not a chance in hell. I have come to love this neighborhood with all of my heart. Not only is it where I work, but at the end of the day this is my home. I was raised on streets like Hanover and Salem, streets that created the character of Bova’s. If the bakery were anywhere else the experience wouldn’t be as authentic.
RB: Of course. I have seen pretty much anything walk through those double doors in my time. The late nights always seem to provide a couple laughs. Drunk college students are always stumbling in, usually after the bars close up for the night and pretty much clear out all of the product. I’ve seen Celtics players, Pat’s (Patriots) players and even the mayor a few times. I guess everyone loves our food (Laughs).
Could you see yourself working anywhere else?
RB: You know, sometimes I think about a life that didn’t involved Bova’s. It always has me working some nine to five job in the city, driving home to the suburbs at night and living a boring life. The idea usually leaves my head faster than it came. I just can’t think of a time where I would be any happier in a situation like that. It might work for some people, but not for me.
What is one thing you’ve learned from your time at the Bakery?
RB: Family comes first. I don’t think I would love my family as much, or respect as much If I were in any other field of work. I am working with my family on a daily basis, we all work towards the same thing. In a way it has united us in a stronger bond than most families have. There are moments where we bicker at each other, but those are the growing pains of a strong family.
Where do you see yourself in ten years? Bova’s?
RB: Only time can really tell, but I hope to still be continuing growing as person and as a member of the Bova family. The bakery is my entire life; I can’t think of a life without it. My family comes first, but I hope to continue the excellence that Bova’s is known for throughout the North End and Boston.