Local business passes down legacy of kindness

40 Faces of 40 Years Rotella's Bakery

Photo: From left to right, Dean Jacobsen poses with wife Maria and President and CEO of Rotella’s, Louis Jr. Rotella.

Rotella’s Bakery has been family owned and operated since 1921. Five generations later, Rotella’s is among the industry’s most respected high-volume specialty bakeries. The art of baking with quality ingredients isn’t the only skill that’s been passed down from generation to generation. Helping those in need has been the most important lesson for this family—both professionally and personally.

“We’ve always gone back to what our grandfather taught us—if there’s anybody that needs help, you help them. That’s been a part of our mission since the start. My grandfather used to feed people that came to the bakery under the grape vines, so it’s almost like it’s in the blood. It’s been ingrained in us,” says Louis Jr. Rotella, President and CEO.

His brother-in-law Dean Jacobsen, Financial Controller of Rotella’s, echoes that same sentiment.  “It may not have been written in our mission in the beginning, but we’ve always done it that way. If we have the bread, we don’t like to turn anybody down.” That giving spirit is how Rotella’s partnership with Food Bank for the Heartland started nearly 40 years ago. While the Food Bank purchases bread directly from Rotella’s Bakery in conjunction with our Mobile Pantry program, Rotella’s has been a great support, donating—on average—100,000 loaves of bread each year.

They say their can-do attitude, commitment to the community, and their faith are all factors in their success. “We plan to take care of our business the way we always have, and then still give back because we’ve been fortunate enough to help others. We’ve been so blessed. If you look in every one of our production areas, you’ll see a cross. And that again is from our father. We thank God that we’ve done so well,” says Louis Jr.

His sister Maria Jacobsen agrees, “I think a lot of it has to do with our faith. Our parents’ faith is strong, and they were always very charitable in their giving. I know I got it from them because if I see somebody on the street, I feel sorry and I just want to help as much as I can.”

The family takes a united stance on giving back to the community. Besides their work with the Food Bank, they donate to several fundraisers each year, including helping their own customers with their fundraising needs. With current economic hardships, they don’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.  “It just makes you want to help more because you really feel sorry for a lot of people that are having trouble right now. There are so many people on fixed incomes. Everything they can save will help them pay for their heating bill or whatever bills they have. Things are up so much and its low-wage earners who are affected the most,” says Louis Jr.

Dean is quick to note that they don’t give to receive the recognition, they give simply because it’s what they’ve always known. “Maria and I sit down every year, and we make a personal plan of how we can give back. We want to keep doing more each year. Sometimes people wait until they pass away, but I want to do this now while we can, so we can see some rewards of it. I don’t mean the thank you’s. We don’t do it for that. We do it so we can see how it helps people.”

While the family hopes their children—who currently work at the bakery—will take over the business one day, passing on the legacy of kindness is more important to them. “It’s about teaching your children that it’s the right thing to do. You hope they learn from example, just as we learned from our parents. We probably do a little bit more because we’ve been more fortunate and hopefully, they do more than us, says Louis Jr.

The family is beyond grateful, not just for the longevity of their business, but of their ability to help their community—one they’ve been blessed to be part of for more than 100 years.  “I always felt very fortunate that we had the means to be so charitable. It touches my heart to hear people loving the bread. There’s not an explanation to how you feel. There are so many people that need help, and I’m so grateful we can be a part of it,” says Maria.

Since 1921, the company’s catchphrase has been “We wish you the very best, from the Rotella family.” This family-owned business has done just that for 101 years. They’re hopeful the idea of paying it forward, will be passed down for generations to come.