1 Lupo bread was born in the original Lupo’s Restaurant in the late 1970s. It was created from a passion for good bread that was not just a half-hearted after-thought with a meal, but an integral, flavourful essential that made food an anticipated pleasure. Some years later it became ciabatta bread by Lupo once Tito Lupini had secured the rights to a recipe for southern Africa. This allowed Lupo to produce the original ciabatta bread under licence, for which they paid a royalty. “Bread is not there just to fill a hole in your stomach,” director Massimo Lupini insists. “It must be a memorable food experience, fill your mouth with after-taste satisfaction and even visually, it must complement your meal.” This was the passion that first inspired his father to introduce this wholesome Italian taste sensation at his restaurant. And people very quickly agreed with his philosophy.
The Lupinis had to move their bread-making operation into their garage to try to meet demand. It was a totally unfamiliar product to South Africans, this ciabatta -which most people at the time couldn’t even pronounce. Slipper-shaped, (ciabatta is Italian for slipper), made of a flour previously unknown to the public, with a high protein content and completely devoid of any additives, preservatives or chemicals, the ciabatta was initially quite disconcerting to first-timers. (“But this bread’s got holes in it!”). But its own superlative flavour quickly turned the cautious taster into a fervent admirer. Not only did the Lupini family introduce the ciabatta into South Africa, they actually registered the name. “It was our trademark,” Lupini explains. “By the late ’80s we were taking it round to delicatessens in baskets and it was so popular that we soon had to move from the garage set-up to proper bakery premises in Craighall.” They added two ovens and a mixer and with a staff complement of about eight, started expanding the clientele.
They couldn’t keep up with demand. People even fought in the queues that formed in the morning. “There was no competition to start with. Rumours were flying around about our ‘secret formula.’ People way-laid our labourers after hours and tried to prise the recipe and the ‘special ingredients’ out of them!” 2
The four sons ran the business with their father, all deeply ingrained with the almost in-bred philosophy of quality above all. “There are absolutely no short cuts allowed, ever” Lupini stresses. “And you have to go to almost extreme limits where controls are concerned. Control over your materials is vital in terms of quality, yield, production processes, distribution and even handling.” So ¬∑important is quality to the Lupini brand that even clients are coached on optimum ways of handling the product.
Importing their olives from Italy, the Lupinis were the first to launch olive bread to an unsuspecting and at first somewhat resistant public. Who puts olives in bread? But the taste caught on. Today it’s hard to believe that these breads were unknown until the Lupinis introduced them into the country.
By 1991, another move to bigger premises was necessary. The crew had grown to number 40-50 people. To spread the product to a greater client base, the Lupinis opened nine retail kiosks, extending from the south of Johannesburg to Pretoria. “Primarily we sold our bread, and also small amounts of Italian delicacies, but before long, we realised it wasn’t the right route,” Lupini continues. “So we sold some kiosks and closed others and went back to the wholesale approach.”
3 Tito Lupini is the golden-tongued deal-closer and in 1990 he brought Pick n Pay into the Lupini fold. “Actually, you don’t have to be all that persuasive in acquiring new clients,” Lupini claims. “The product speaks volubly for itself.”
In many ways it was the beginning of a new era. The ability to manufacture more product enabled the Lupinis to spread their wings and take on greater challenges. The big clients began to knock on the door. “We supplied Air Chef with all its breads for SM business and first class passengers. We were told that the bread was so popular that air crew staff used to live on the bread and stash their meal allowance money abroad.”
Then the restaurants, coffee bars and the franchise groups began to cotton on. “Top-flying delis and restaurants were our main customers until the restaurant trade took a dip towards the late ’90s and then the coffee shops which provided
breakfast, lunch and supper started taking over,” Lupini says. The growth in trade necessitated yet another move, this time to their own premises in Honeydew where there are now two factories with further expansion under way.
“We began to see the new coffee-shop trend grow with the advent of brands like Mugg & Bean, one of our current clients. Then Spar and Checkers came on board.” Lupo Bakery delivers products to clients’ main distribution centres for them to parcel out to their various outlets. “We were always very close to what was happening in the market, the changes in customer taste and habits so we were in a good position to go with the flow of what the market wanted. It promoted our growth so that today we are one of the bigger, if not the biggest, medium-sized speciality bakery in the country.” 4
It hasn’t been plain sailing all the way. “We’ve paid our school fees,” is how Lupini expresses it. “For instance we branched out into making sandwiches, which we supplied very successfully to British Airways, Pick n Pay and Spar, but the complexities of dealing with the processing and control of so many additional ingredients convinced us that we were out of our depth, so we went back to concentrating on our core brand.
6 “But we are constantly adding to our basket of products. From producing just three types of bread, we now offer almost 200. We also make the kiddies’ pizzas for Spur restaurants and garlic bread for Pick n Pay and service over 350 coffee shops and restaurants with fresh and frozen breads on a daily basis throughout South Africa.” Lupo Bakery runs a fleet of 10 vehicles and now has a staff complement of 150.
Lupo Bakery is in constant evolution. “My brother Tito and I acquired the business from the Family in 1997. Tito controlled the finances and customer liaison, and I was in charge of production and the product development side. Through the years we have had to move gradually into areas where we initially had no expertise: labour control, food technology, health and security. We’ve had to grow departments to handle the requirements that growth imposes, such as human resources, accounting and business processes.”
As Lupo Bakery has grown, so have individual staff members. Lupini is inordinately proud of employees who have progressed from being cleaners to supervisors, telesales agents, store clerks and even managers. “We’ve also developed an internal “help-each other” fund which employees themselves manage, establishing criteria of who qualifies for financial assistance.” Employees are also able to sell surplus product which generates additional funds for the scheme. “We contribute to a number of charities too, providing bread for distribution to the poor and needy and to senior citizens. “As we have expanded, the logistics have become hugely complex. We operate 24/7 and receive orders up until four in the afternoon for delivery at two the following morning. The transition from artisan to modern technical baker without losing quality and flavour has been successful. We’re taking on additional premises next year and keep doing what we excel at -making real bread for real people.”

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