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Rao's Bakery: An Italian Story in the Heart of Texas

By Jessica Metcalf

Rao's Bakery in Houston has long roots, founded as a family business in 1941. It was later bought by the current owner Jake Tortorice, who frequented the bakery during his childhood.

Tortorice's goal was to transform Rao's into an Italian-style café with exquisite European desserts and superb coffee drinks - a place that could "take our customers away from the hustle and bustle of Houston and feel as though they are in Milan." It has become a place to escape and savor a carefully crafted cappuccino and a slice of homemade tiramisu.

Today, there are several Rao's bakeries across the city, and the brand is continuing to expand. The bakery is geared toward families, hosts parties and birthdays, and has even offered summer and winter break bakery camps for kids for the last thirty years. Children have the opportunity to learn the basics of baking and cooking - something a lot of local families take advantage of.

Made fresh every day with high quality ingredients, Rao's cakes, glazed sugar cookies, and gelato are some of the main attractions for customers. Rao's was one of the first bakeries in the whole state to produce and sell gelato locally. And its King Cakes - special Mardi Gras cakes baked with cinnamon and festively decorated in purple, green, and gold icing - ship year round from Rao's website. They even come with Mardi Gras beads, a flyer explaining the history behind the dessert, and a plastic baby to be hidden inside or underneath the cake.

Of course, dessert's best companion is coffee, and there is no shortage of freshly-prepared coffees and teas. From traditional latte, café au lait, and mocha to the more creative Snickers latte, Carmella, Kona Mocha, and Gelato Malt, chances are Rao's will have what you are craving.

The bakery also makes fresh sandwiches and salads and is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Tortorice says that his favorite menu item is the Sicilian tuna sandwich. "My mom and I had something similar to this in Rome and had a good time trying to replicate it," says Tortorice. "Makes me think of my Mom."

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