Few outside of Rochester, New York, may have heard of salty bread: a ciabatta-like offering made with additional salt. It’s a regional staple sold in cafes, bakeries and grocery stores.
Paul Padoleski, who was born and raised in the Rochester area and has spent decades holding down just about every job you can think of in a pizzeria, was aiming to capitalize on the area’s love of salty bread—and pizza—when he opened Salty Bread Pizza Cafe in May 2022. He thought it would be popular and knew it would be a venture that let him flex his culinary imagination.
“People always ask me, ‘If you could have one food to eat the rest of your life, what would it be?’” Padoleski said. “I always tell them, ‘That’s easy. Pizza.’ Because pizza is the ultimate blank canvas. I think I’ve proven that here [at Salty Bread Pizza Cafe]. You can have any food, any time you want, on a pizza.”
The pizzeria—which occupies a 960-square-foot building in Irondequoit, a northeastern suburb of Rochester on Lake Ontario—has fast attracted a loyal following with unique and innovative pies, as well as a selection of baked goods. The shop is a family affair: Padoleski’s wife, Laura, helps out, while the duo’s two teenage sons work evening shifts when they are available.
To make Salty French Bread pizzas, Padoleski cuts a long piece of the ciabatta-like bread in half, lengthwise, and creates the pie on a “top” or a “bottom”: Top pieces have a bit more salt, while bottoms have more olive oil. Customers have their preferences, and Salty Bread Pizza Cafe provides them with options.
“Salty bread is kind of a thing in Rochester, and there’s really no other bread like it,” Padoleski said. “A lot of people playfully call it ‘crack bread’ because it’s very addictive.”
Padoleski’s pizza menu is always changing. Customers can create their own pizzas or choose from about eight different Salty French Bread pizzas that run the gamut from Roasted Red Pepper & Smoked Gouda to a classic Margherita. The other half of the restaurant’s pizza menu consists of fairly standard New York-style pies. Padoleski is constantly dreaming up specials, too, in order to stay “focused and challenged,” as he puts it.
“Just recently a buddy of mine texted me, simply, ‘Tuna Melt Pizza—you won’t do it,’” Padoleski said. “And that’s one I actually haven’t done yet, because it sounds gross, but I might do it just for him.”
Padoleski has made plenty of Salty French Bread specialty pizzas that give reason to believe he’ll make that Tuna Melt pizza someday. There’s been a French Onion Soup Pizza, a Nashville Hot Pizza, a Lobster Mac ‘n’ Cheese Pizza and a Chicken French Salty Bread pizza, which merges two regional delicacies into one. “If you’ve ever been to a wedding in Rochester,” Padoleski said, “then you’ve had Chicken French.”
The menu includes a lot more than just pizza: The “cafe” aspect of the restaurant’s name is a nod to the bevy of house-made pastries Salty Bread Pizza Cafe sells. The bakery menu includes homemade cookies, whoopie pies with house-made filling, croissants, cronuts and more. The restaurant also serves paninis and generous salads—there’s always a reason to stop by and see what Padoleski is coming up with.
While those other menu items get rave reviews, Padoleski’s true love has always been pizza. As a 16-year-old, Padoleski took a job with Krony’s Pizza, a regional chain in the Rochester, New York, area that has been open since 1982. He then took a job as a delivery driver with Papa John’s, eventually moving his way up to store manager.
The first pizzerias Padoleski owned were Great Northern Pizza Kitchen restaurants—he was one of four owners who grew the small regional chain into five different locations.
“Through all of those experiences, I learned different ways to make pizza,” Padoleski said, adding that he took a break from pizza after his ownership stint with Great Northern. But as if pizza held a magnetic pull on his soul, Padoleski found his way back to it when City Grill, an upscale eatery in downtown Rochester he had once managed, asked him to start up a pizza program.
“In exchange for taking a pay cut to do that, the chef there taught me everything he could,” Padoleski said. “I learned a lot of stuff that I’d eventually implement here [at Salty Bread Pizza Cafe].”
Later—and more recently—he worked at Amazing Grains, a salty bread bakery that helped fill out his repertoire when it came to making baked goods.
With just two other full-time employees at Salty Bread Pizza Cafe—and about eight total team members, including those who work part time—it’s amazing what Padoleski and his family have been able to accomplish in a small, 960-square-foot restaurant with very little help. In fact, he says he’s running out of space and is currently searching for a commissary-style kitchen where he can stretch out a bit more.
He’s also already signed a lease to open a second Salty Bread Pizza Cafe, though the format will be a bit different. It will be a DELCO restaurant, serving the salty bread pizza locals have grown accustomed to but without the 20 or so seats you’ll find at the original location.
For his success, Padoleski first and foremost credits his family. “My kids and my wife are amazing,” Padoleski said. “Working with them in the kitchen are truly some of the best times. There’s been a lot of work, a lot of pain, a lot of hard times, but it’s been an absolute dream to do this with my family.”
Padoleski also credits the local business owners in the community. He says Rochester’s pizza scene is one that flies under the radar but is rich with culinary diversity and quality pies. He’s found that local pizza makers are supportive of one another in a way you won’t find in most other cities. As evidence, he points to a recent occasion where he had a large catering order come in and not enough pizza boxes to fulfill it—and just 24 hours to find more. He reached out to his rep on a Sunday and was told the company couldn’t help him, but a different client of theirs might be able to. It ended up being a guy who operated a pizzeria down the street from Salty Bread Pizza Cafe.
“This guy at a place called Cordello’s hooked me up with his boxes,” Padoleski said. “I tried to pay him, and he wouldn’t even take it. It’s one of those things where it’s competitive around here in terms of pizza, but everybody kinda roots for one another.”
“And I truly don’t know anywhere you can get better pizza as far as options,” Padoleski continued. “You can get Detroit-style, New York-style, Neapolitan, it’s all here. In Rochester, you’re getting anything you want.”
Thanks to Padoleski, “anything you want” now includes salty bread pizza.