Magnolia Bakery celebrates 80th anniversary

Linda Castello poses with a variety of freshly baked breads at the Magnolia Bakery on North Magnolia Avenue in Ocala, Fla. on Wednesday, August 11, 2021. The bakery is celebration its 80th anniversary and Castello and her husband, Sal, have owned and operated it for the past 45 years. On Oct. 12, the bakery will be celebrating its 80th anniversary and selling bread for what it cost in 1941. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2021.

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Posted August 13, 2021 | By James Blevins,

Linda Castello poses with a variety of freshly baked bread at the Magnolia Bakery on North Magnolia Avenue on Aug. 11. The bakery is celebrating its 80th anniversary and Castello and her husband, Sal, have owned and operated it for the past 45 years. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 

The site of the Magnolia Bakery was part of a pecan orchard in 1941 when George Moeller built a little bakery near the corner of North Magnolia Avenue and what is now Northeast 14th Street.

Over the decades, the site has been built up, burned down and rebuilt again. All the while, the original bakery building survived. This year, the building and the bakery celebrate their 80th anniversary. For 45 years, Linda and Salvatore Castello have owned the business.

They bought the bakery in 1975 after Moeller died and have dutifully continued the tradition of baking bread, cookies and pastries fresh daily.

“I’m part of where Ocala edges into the modern era,” said Linda Costello. “There are a lot of good feelings in here.”

She said they bought the bakery after her husband saw it advertised in the New York Times. They lived in the Bronx at the time.

“Sal said, ‘I’m going to go down and take a look at it.’” she said. “He saw [the bakery] and loved it, and he bought it.”

They hope to mark the anniversary soon.

“We’re going to do something big,” said Linda. “I’m not sure what yet. But we’ll do something. I do crazy stuff. I’ve done that for years.”

Linda Castello decorates eclairs at the Magnolia Bakery on North Magnolia Avenue in Ocala. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

She might be referring to the time she baked an 8-foot-long cake for the ribbon-cutting ceremony after a North Magnolia road project was completed in the early 2000s. The project took nine years to finish.

The cake copied the stretch of the affected road, which ran for 1.1 miles including in front of the bakery.

No one saw that cake coming, said Linda. And no one, she teased further, will likely see what she has planned to celebrate this milestone either.

“That’s all part of the fun,” she said.

Since its heyday, the bakery has downsized significantly. But when the idea of relocating comes up, Linda is quick to downplay the suggestion.

“I can’t move,” she said. “If I move two doors down, it’ll throw everybody off. It won’t be the same nostalgia. It just doesn’t make any sense for me to move.”

Nostalgia plays a huge role in the relationship the bakery has had with its customers.

Recently, a customer buying pastries asked Linda if she recognized her from when she was a child.

“It happens all the time. It’s so nostalgic for them, this place. It brings them back and makes them feel good,” she said.

She said the nature of the bakery’s products helps make those memories.

“They’re celebrating one way or another,” she said. “And if they’re not celebrating, they need sugar. This is the place where all that happens.”

Linda Castello decorates eclairs at the Magnolia Bakery on North Magnolia Avenue in Ocala on Aug. 11. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 

Linda has been happy to provide the raw materials for that nostalgia.

“This place has so much of something. I don’t know what you’d like to call it, but it has so much of something, something that draws people in,” she said. “It’s slow. It’s summer, but people still come in to see me and tell me what’s going on in their lives.”

But back in 1986, it was the Magnolia Bakery that needed help after part of the bakery suddenly caught fire and quickly burned to the ground.

The structure was particularly susceptible to this, said Linda, being that it was made of wood—wood from the 1940s.

After the fire, the community came together and helped Linda and Sal rebuild. Some families even brought them fruits and vegetables picked from their gardens.

“I was choked up,” recalled Linda. “It was heartwarming that people really felt bad for us. It was a big disaster, a four-alarm fire.”

In November 2018, the bakery survived yet another fire scare after a power surge affected several businesses on the same block. Fortunately, the flames were caught in time and promptly put out by the fire department.

“I’m telling you,” said Linda of the incident. “This building had angels flying over it on that day. Almost lost it again.”

The bakery means a lot to Linda, to say nothing of Ocala. She’s dedicated most of her life to making it successful. With that said, she’s the first to acknowledge that all great things, even beloved things, must someday come to an end.

“I can’t see Magnolia Bakery going much longer really,” Linda said. “Because I want to retire my husband from the bakery business.”

The bakery starts humming in the wee hours of the morning, every day.

“I know the customers don’t want me to let go,” she said. “But he (Sal) hasn’t had a vacation in 12 years. And in the restaurant business, you work holidays. You work, and you work, and you work. And he’s tired.”

While she knows the end will come one day, she said they have no immediate plans to retire.

“We’ll have to let go one day, which is okay. Everyone lets go of something at some point. It won’t be tomorrow or nothing. But what a ride we’ve had. To be here 45 of those 80 years is really something.”

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