A famous SF pizza chef was called an Italian ethnic insult. Now he gives his name to his new bagel shop

Pizza pro Tony Gemignani is getting into the hotly contested Bay Area bagel game, and he chose a potentially controversial name for the operation.

Gemignani’s Dago Bagel will be located in its new Italian bakery, Toscano Brothers. He said he chose the brand’s name, an ethnic insult sometimes aimed at people of Italian or Spanish descent, in contempt after a recent altercation outside one of his North Beach restaurants.

He alleged that a man harassed him about the restaurant’s operations and yelled the insult at him. He filed a police report, then returned to the kitchen and decided to retrieve the derogatory term.

The famous pizza maker said he understands not everyone will be on board with the name. In 2013, a New York food truck that used the term in its name was denied a license to operate in Albany. In 2014 in San Francisco, the owners of a Mexican restaurant changed its name from Bandidos to Hecho after the Mexican-American community called the term racist and offensive, noting that it was used as an insult against Mexicans in movies from the 1930s and 1940s.

Gemignani, however, hopes that telling the story behind the name is educational and has a positive impact. He plans to post a poster outside of Toscano Brothers with a detailed explanation and on the bakery’s website.

“It is important to create this awareness, so that people learn and know what this word means and not use it in a certain way,” Gemignani said.

Toscano Brothers opens May 1 at 728 Vallejo Street, between Stockton and Powell Streets. There, Gemignani, better known as the man behind Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, Capo’s and Slice House, will focus on natural sourdough bagels and sourdough bread.

Toscano Brothers in North Beach will be making New York-style natural sourdough bagels.

Toscano Brothers

Toscano Brothers, a new bakery from Tony Gemignani of Tony's Pizza Napoletana, will serve sourdough and other fresh breads.

Toscano Brothers, a new bakery from Tony Gemignani of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, will serve sourdough and other fresh breads.

Toscano Brothers

Gemignani said he was working on a bagel concept months before the recent New York Times article that sparked a debate on West Coast and East Coast bagels. Her New York bagels are soft and not too lifted, with a touch of rye in the starter. They are boiled in liquid malt and baked in the oven. There will be plain bagels, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, blueberry, everything, Maldon salt and cinnamon sugar available, with schmears, nova and lox for toppings.

Gemignani plans to donate a portion of bagel sales to the San Francisco Italian Athletics Club Foundation to help celebrate and preserve Italian culture, in part due to the interaction that inspired the name of the company. He also sits on the foundation’s board of directors.

Nick Figone, director of operations for the club’s Italian Foundation, congratulated Gemignani on the appointment of Dago Bagel.

“I think there is a lot of hatred in this world and that it is directed against many races, cultures and ethnicities, including Italians and Italian-Americans. It’s a powerful message and one that needs to be shared, ”said Figone.

He also hopes people will take into account the context around the name: “If we’re only living the headlines and living on the surface, this will only continue as usual.”

The overall concept of the bakery is an extension of Gemignani’s pizza philosophy. He has long worked with Central Milling Co. of Petaluma to create flours for his pizzas, also based on sourdough. And while North Beach is home to Italian pastries and Focaccia’s favorite Ligurian bakery, fresh bread is “a dying breed” in the neighborhood, Gemignani said.

At the bakery, home-ground cereal from Central Milling Co. and a 40-year-old sourdough will lay the foundation for Italian country bread with rosemary and dried black olives, sour chocolate bastards and baguettes. The fresh bread will also be made into Roman flatbread pizzas and panini sandwiches with hand-sliced ​​mortadella and prosciutto. Coffee will come from the nearby Caffe Trieste.

From May or June, the bakery also plans to offer treats like tiramisu, sea salt caramel focaccia bread pudding and panna cotta.

Toscano Brothers pays homage to classic Italian bakeries that Gemignani grew up frequenting, like Colombo Baking Company and Toscana Bakery Co. in Oakland. His mother often used their bread to make French bread pizzas, and fresh sourdough breads were offered at Sunday dinners. He and his brother dreamed that they would one day open their own bread business – hence the name of the bakery, which also pays homage to Gemignani’s Tuscan heritage.

Toscano Brothers is scheduled to be open Thursday through Sunday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. or while supplies last.

Elena Kadvany is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]

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