Close to a century ago, two Sicilian brothers set sail for South Philadelphia with suitcases and recipes.
After Giuseppe reunited with his sibling, Gaetano, who had arrived one year earlier, the duo opened a small bakery at 1514 S. 8th St., where they sold wedding cakes and cannolis.
As Termini Brothers Bakery approaches its centennial anniversary, the two Italian bakers would come to embody the American Dream.
In their family’s honor, the Termini lineage has spent the last eight summers preparing free pastries for America’s annual birthday party celebrated alongside Betsy Ross each year at the Independence Visitor Center.
“My grandfather – he had a deep, deep love and admiration for this country, for the opportunities that the country provided him,” said Vincent Termini Jr., owner of the bakery. “And, he never forgot it for his entire life. He was proud to be an American. He was proud to have the love that he did for the country, and he had an extreme dedication to the country.. This is our way of just continuing the Termini name with the patronage and the love for the country.”
Almost a decade ago, the Independence Visitor Center asked Termini’s to bake America’s official birthday cake, which is distributed every Fourth of July at 599 Market St.
Since then, the scrumptious extravaganza continues to grow.
This year’s event called for 2,500 red, white and blue cupcakes coupled with a five-tier, buttercream-topped birthday cake intended to feed up to 300 people.
“I couldn’t imagine my grandfather even thinking about making a birthday cake for America – the country which he loved so much,” said Joseph Termini, general manager of Termini’s. “You’re at Independence Hall – the birth of our country – it took place right there. And here you have someone that was an immigrant who came here with nothing, and was given the opportunity. And here, he has the opportunity for his grandchildren to make America’s birthday cake. It’s like a movie.”
While planning officially starts in June, the Termini brothers say as soon as the event is over each year, they’re already contemplating ideas for the following.
For years, crowds have lined up across Independence Mall and down Market Street to take a taste of the Termini delights.
Event attendees can even witness the pastry process in action, as three on-site decorators bedeck the massive cake, which receives a different design every year.
“Every year, it gets a little more cool and dynamic,” Joseph Termini said.
Preparation for patriotic pastries requires nearly the entire bakery staff.
On the day before the event, approximately 15 Termini employees were decorating cupcakes all day, starting in the early morning.
The brothers have to arrive at the Independence Visitor Center as early as 7 a.m. on the Fourth of July.
But, any amount of manpower, expenses and early mornings are all worth this labor of love.
“That’s our gift to the country,” Joseph Termini said. “It’s our gift to America.”
At 1 p.m., the brothers, alongside Betsy Ross and the all of the partygoers, sing “Happy Birthday” to the country that transformed the Termini dream into a South Philadelphia institution.
“We’ll never forget where we’re from – the same way my grandfather never forgot where he was from,” Vincent Termini said.
As folks bite down into the desserts on the Fourth, the brothers hope people don’t just solely taste the sweet buttercream but also recognize the symbolism of the South Philly cakes.
For the brothers, they don’t think their grandfather could have ever imagined making a birthday cake for the United States.
“A guy left his country with nothing other than his brother and a recipe book and a box,” said Joseph Termini. “And that’s it, and he worked tirelessly here in South Philly – right here where we’re standing – and built this beautiful business. Third generation, making America’s birthday cake – all came from that opportunity.”