Fifty-six years after it was created, people still remember the 750-pound cake that he made in the shape of a lobster.

His fried dough was so tasty that a sitting president during World War II demanded it for a late-night snack.

And his doughnuts were praised as some of the most delicious you could buy in Greater Portland.

Emidio John Palanza, known by many as “Uncle Andy” for the more than 40 years he owned and operated Uncle Andy’s Bakery in South Portland, died Friday after a brief illness. The longtime resident of South Portland was 89 years old.

Mr. Palanza, who went by “John,” operated Uncle Andy’s Bakery with his wife, Helen, who passed away in 1993. The bakery was located at 171 Ocean St., near the Mill Creek shopping center.

“My parents were there for so long that they got to know three generations of families who came to the bakery,” said his son, John Palanza of South Portland.


John Palanza worked at the bakery from the time he was 8 years old through his college years. “I think anyone who grew up in South Portland during the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s ate there,” he said.

Mr. Palanza was born in Portland in 1921, the son of Italian immigrants Camilla and Flavia (DiDonato) Palanza. He was the second-oldest child of six.

The family lived on Munjoy Hill. Because his family only spoke Italian, Mr. Palanza had to learn to speak English on his own.

He attended North Street School and Portland High School.

As young children, Mr. Palanza and his brother Sam would hawk Portland Press Herald newspapers on Congress Street to make a little extra money. They would pay two cents for each copy and sell them for three cents on the street.

Mr. Palanza, Sam and a third brother, Tony, enlisted in the Navy during World War II. Each brother served on a different ship, with Mr. Palanza assigned to the USS Iowa.


It was at sea, while he worked as the ship’s baker and backup gunner, that he met President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The USS Iowa was assigned to escort the president to the Tehran Conference, a meeting in Iran of the leaders of Russia, England and the United States. It turned out that the president, who had a sweet tooth, liked having dessert before bedtime. Each night, he would request that Mr. Palanza make him fried dough.

“He very much liked the fried dough that my father made,” Palanza said.

Not all of the brothers returned home after the war. Tony, a Navy gunner, was killed when a Japanese kamikaze pilot flew his plane into the gunner’s turret during the battle of Iwo Jima.

In the late 1940s, Mr. Palanza was hired by Fred Nanney, the original owner of Uncle Andy’s, to run the doughnut shop. In 1951, Mr. Palanza acquired Uncle Andy’s, growing it from a doughnut shop to a full-service bakery.

For more than 40 years, he produced breads, cakes, pies, doughnuts and assorted pastries for hundreds of loyal customers, many of whom would wait in line outside the bakery on busy weekend mornings and on holidays. The police department assigned a traffic cop to direct traffic past the shop during its busy times.


John Palanza described his father as an artist. He baked cakes in the shape of the Prince of Fundy cruise ship, the Coast Guard station in South Portland, the South Portland police station and Jordan Marsh, the former Maine Mall department store.

But his most artistic creation was the 750-pound cake, carved in the shape of a lobster, that he delivered to the Maine Osteopathic Association for its 50th anniversary celebration. Photographs of the cake, which he made in 1954, are still featured on the association’s website.

The lobster cake was 11 feet long and required about 150 pounds of frosting. It was entirely edible except for two antennae, which were made from bamboo.

It had to be delivered in a laundry truck, which he drove from South Portland to the Samoset hotel in Rockland.

Mr. Palanza believed in the American dream and the value of hard work. “His parents came from Italy, and they struggled with being poor,” his son said.

He recalled that both of his parents worked long hours. His father would leave at one or two in the morning to get a head start on his baking duties.


“The bakery was a seven-day-a-week job,” John Palanza said.

After his wife died in 1993, Mr. Palanza’s children took over operation of the bakery. John Palanza said the family sold Uncle Andy’s Bakery in 1996. It closed in March 1998.

In a book dedicated to looking at some of South Portland’s neighborhood stores, John Palanza said the author noted that it was a sad day for South Portland when Uncle Andy’s closed.

He said his father’s best baked item was his low-fat and delicious Scala bread. It became so popular that it was shipped to customers across the United States.

During his wake, which was held Sunday, former customers and friends shared memories. One of them was that when Mr. Palanza was frying doughnuts, he often broke out in song.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:


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