Paul Sapienza, the longtime president of the Elmont Chamber of Commerce and the owner of Sapienza Bake Shop, died at St. Francis Hospital, in Roslyn, on Saturday, at the age of 68. The cause of his death was not known as the Herald went to press.
Sapienza was born on Oct. 2, 1952 to parents Andrew and Angelina, and was the younger brother of Rose and Annette.
He grew up in Elmont in the 1950s and 1960s, and lived next door to his good friend Roseanne Golde, whom he later married. The two clicked from the start, playing games together and holding hands on their way to kindergarten at the Butler Boulevard School, now the Clara H. Carlson School. A teacher once even scolded Roseanne for holding Paul’s hand “too frequently” at such a young age, she previously told the Herald.
But when Paul started first grade, his parents decided they wanted to give him a Catholic education, and he was enrolled at the St. Boniface School, in Elmont, while Roseanne stayed at Butler Boulevard. Still, the two remained good friends and spent their free time together — until the early 1960s, when the Sapienzas moved to Baldwin, and Paul’s parents tried to enroll him in the St. Christopher School. But the school was too full, and Paul instead attended the St. Vincent de Paul School, in Elmont.
He went on to attend Chaminade High School, in Mineola, while Roseanne went to Sewanhaka High. At age 18, Roseanne married her high school boyfriend, and had her first child, Dawn, while working in the health and beauty section of Hills Supermarket in Elmont.
Sapienza, meanwhile, studied accounting at St. John’s University, and discussed taking over his family business with his good friend Antonino Scolieri. Scolieri eventually bought out his father’s bakery, on Meacham Avenue in Elmont, and in 1973 Paul took over his family’s Italian pastry shop, on Hempstead Turnpike.
He had heard that his once good friend Roseanne was now married, and he figured he would never see her again, but he was wrong. She and her husband separated in the early 1970s. In 1975, she came into Sapienza Bake Shop to order a wedding cake for her brother, and, as Sapienza has previously told the Herald, “The rest is history.”
Paul asked her out less than a week later, and the two went on their first date on Jan. 29, 1975. Ten months later, they were married.
They went on to have two children, Melissa and Andrew, whom Sapienza is teaching to run the family business, and Roseanne started running the bake shop while Paul focused on the wholesale distribution of its Italian pastries, which, he told the Herald last year, are superior to those offered by chain supermarkets because those markets are more price-conscious about their ingredients. As a result, customers don’t get the same nostalgic feeling for their grandmother’s baking when they bite into a supermarket pastry that they do when they try one from Sapienza’s.
“We might not be able to beat [the supermarkets] on price,” he said, “but we can beat them on taste and quality.”
Everyone who works at the store lives in the area, he said, and 67 cents of every dollar spent at the bakery is returned to the Franklin Square and Elmont communities.
“He was a caring person,” said Jeanette Toc, who worked at Sapienza’s when she was younger. “Like if he asked you how you were doing, it wasn’t just a ‘Hey, how you doin’?’ He genuinely cared, and was present in any conversation he had.”
Toc hadn’t seen Sapienza since she left the bakery eight years ago and moved to Pennsylvania, she said, but when she called him in May to place an order for her mother’s birthday, “He recognized my voice and we chatted for a bit.”
Sapienza served on the boards of the Martin de Porres School, in Elmont, and Gateway Youth Outreach, an organization that provides children in the community with counseling as well as educational and recreational programs. He and Roseanne also was lector and eucharist minister at St. Boniface Roman Catholic Church.
Sapienza, who became president of the Chamber of Commerce in 2012, helped the Elmont business community throughout the coronavirus pandemic and spoke out in support of the Belmont Park redevelopment project. He unsuccessfully challenged Carrié Solages for his seat in the County Legislature in 2017, running on an economic development platform, and was honored as the Nassau Council of Chambers’ Small Businessperson of the Year, the grand marshal of the Belmont/Elmont Parade and the St. Boniface Parish’s Man of the Year for his dedication to the community.
“The name Sapienza and Elmont are synonymous,” said Julie Marschesella, the chamber’s acting president. “The Elmont community is greatly indebted to him.”
Sapienza helped out more than just the Elmont and Franklin Square communities, though. He participated in the fundraising run for prostate cancer research at Belmont Park every year, and he has served as president of the Nassau-Suffolk Bakers Association, the New York State Bakers Association and the national Retail Bakers of America Association, organizing and attending several conventions in Atlantic City.
“There is no one that loved the RBA more,” the organization posted on Facebook on Monday. “We will forever miss his stories and laughs.”
John Lupo, a baker from Minnesota, commented that “Paul was one of the good guys,” and was always willing to help out anyone in need. “He touched so many of us in such a positive way,” Lupo wrote. “The world needs more Paul Sapienzas.”
Sapienza was predeceased by his parents. In addition to his wife, he is survived by his children, Melissa Waelchli (Victor) and Andrew; his stepdaughter, Dawn (Keith); and his grandchildren, Jessica, Allyson, Patrick, Alayna and Kaylee.
Wakes were scheduled for Dec. 2 and 3, from 2 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m., at the Elmont Funeral Home, 1529 Hempstead Turnpike in Elmont. The funeral will be held on Dec. 4, at 9:30 a.m., at St. Boniface Roman Catholic Church, 631 Elmont Road. All Centers for Disease Control and Nassau County Department of Health regulations will be followed, and limited viewing is available.