Gianni Bernardinello, Baker Who Fed Neighbors Amid Pandemic, Dies at 76
This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.
When the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout came crashing down on the north of Italy in March, Gianni Bernardinello, a baker, started putting baskets full of bread, pizza and sweets outside of his shop in Milan’s Chinatown.
“To give a hand to those in need,” the sign above the baskets read, “help yourself and think of others too.”
After putting out the baked goods, Mr. Bernardinello would immediately disappear from view to avoid embarrassing anyone he might know who was waiting in line for the handout.
“He said he was putting out leftovers at night but I also saw him putting out fresh bread in the middle of the day,” Alessandra De Luca, 56, a client and a friend said, “He was really worried.”
Mr. Bernardinello died on Nov. 9 of the coronavirus at a hospital in Milan, his daughter, Samuela Bernardinello, said. He was 76.
Until he fell ill, he went to his bakery every day even though his daughters begged him to stay home. “Between these walls there wasn’t a day in 130 years that they stopped making bread,” he used to say, “even under the bombings in 1943.”
Mr. Bernardinello was born that year, on Dec. 22, in Montù Beccaria, a town near Milan where his parents had been evacuated. His father, Aldo Bernardinello, worked at a factory producing car engines and his mother, Carla Guastoni, was a homemaker.
He started working at 12 as an apprentice goldsmith to help support his family. He moved on to become a fashion photographer and then started a yarn business. When the sector went through a crisis in the 1980s, he started looking for new business opportunities. This time, he wanted to sell a product that “people will always need,” he told his daughters.
He bought the Macchi Bakery in 1989. Mr. Bernardinello had never touched dough before, but training under the old baker he quickly learned the trade — how to knead wheat, corn or chestnut dough into focaccias, panettones, cookies and rolls.
The bakery, renamed Berni after Mr. Bernardinello’s nickname, became a meeting place in the neighborhood, where locals stopped by for a coffee, or to hear Berni talk about the drones he had built — another passion — or the jazz festival in the neighborhood he had organized with the Chinese entrepreneurs association.
Along with his daughter Samuela, he is survived by his wife, Orsola Vinetti; another daughter, Patrizia Bernardinello; his sister, Maria Elettra; and four grandchildren.
After the pandemic began, the bakery also became a place where residents could drop off staples such as sugar, pasta, or tomato sauce next to the baskets that his daughters continued to fill up with sweet rolls and bread loafs. His daughter Samuela took over the business.
“He said we must help, since we can,” she said. “People always need bread.”
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