Greg Acerra remembers waiting for the bus in the Guidance Office one day after school. At the time, Greg, a Dorchester native, was a junior at Xaverian Brothers High School and had just began to think about what he would do after graduation. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a brochure for Johnson and Wales University that featured two men with chef hats holding a gingerbread house on the cover. Now 38 years later, Greg, a restaurateur and founder of Fireking Baking Company, has been named the Manufacturer of the Year for Massachusetts.
“I remember there was a lot of pressure starting to build about where I was going to go to school during my junior year,” said Greg. “I saw the brochure and took it home to my parents and told them this is what I wanted to do. They brought me down to Johnson and Wales and I made my decision.”
Upon graduation from Johnson and Wales, Greg moved back home and took one of the biggest risks of his life. After working in different restaurants and hotels, he decided to open a restaurant of his own and thus, Stars in Hingham Harbor was born.
“It was a lot of work,” said Greg of building a restaurant from scratch. “But I saw my parents work so hard to provide me a great education at Xaverian and Johnson and Wales, I didn’t want to let them down.” Greg worked seven days a week to make Tosca one of the most popular destinations on the South Shore. He then went on to open Tosca and Caffe Tosca, also in Hingham.
With now three restaurants to manage, Greg found himself lacking in the bread department. He saw an opportunity when the gas station across the street from his restaurants went on the market and established Fireking Baking Company. Fireking quickly became known as an innovator in the baking industry, offering many different types of artisan breads. He never meant to get into the baking business; however, one day when the owner of Rebecca’s Café, a sandwich chain in Boston called to see if he would sell his bread, he couldn’t turn them down. With pressure from the wholesale business, Fireking found itself quickly outpacing its capacity.
“Business kept growing and growing, a lot of it by word of mouth,” said Greg. “We decided to move to a larger facility in Weymouth to keep up with the demands. Unlike restaurants, bakeries are going 24 hours a day.”
Fireking took off and grew from a two-man operation to a 114-person manufacturing operation in a 40,000-square-foot facility located in Braintree, now distributing throughout the United States. Because of the Small Business Association’s (SBA) 504 loan program, Greg was able to move his operation from the Weymouth facility to a state-of-the-art facility in Braintree to fulfill the growing demand for his products. As Fireking began scaling up and settling into their new space in Braintree, sales began to reflect the business growth as well. The number of jobs created grew from 71 in 2012, to 82 in 2013; then to 93 in 2014 and in 2015 Fireking finished with 114 employees. Since expanding sales and profits have been growing steadily over the past three years, continually achieving double-digit growth – with an astounding increase of 21 percent for total sales in 2015.
“Greg Acerra is an innovator in the baking industry,” said Robert Nelson, SBA Massachusetts District Director. “Because of Fireking Baking Company’s unique breads, Greg has been able to grow jobs in the commonwealth while providing foodie artisans all across the country with the best baseline ingredients to invent their own unique creations.”
Greg encourages all students to follow their dreams and do what makes them feel inspired.