Amid the throngs of visitors that frequent Boston’s North End every weekend, a handful of places have long stood out as deeply local establishments among the tourist traps. Serving Boston since 1970, Maria’s Pastry Shop has stayed true to its roots of local ownership and fresh, home-cooked products. On Sept. 15, however, this mainstay shut down for good.
Located at 46 Cross Street, the seemingly nondescript storefront has long operated as a hidden gem, serving up some of Boston’s best desserts in one of the city’s most authentic spots for almost 50 years. While the interior was small, every inch of wall space was crammed with shelves stacked high with pastries during the years of operation, and the limited space inside only encouraged customers to line up down the street.
The current owner, Maria Marelo, has been running the shop for 37 years, and she has remained on the frontlines of the business all that time. Face-to-face interaction with customers and a friendly relationship between the staff and the regulars have long distinguished Maria’s from other, more commercialized pastry shops.
Marelo’s decision to close shop was in no way a response to slowing business, and to the contrary, Marelo told CBS News that “business is going up and up and up. That’s one of the reasons I’m retiring because I can’t work more hours anymore.”
Rather than sacrificing quality to accommodate increased demand, Marelo told Boston Magazine that, after growing envious of her many friends retiring to Florida, she too decided to take a break. This decision came only two months prior to the official closing date.
While the authentic environment offered by Maria’s Pastry Shop was unparalleled, the cannoli served behind the counter were as famed as the friendly faces who prepared them. New England Today cited Maria’s Pastry Shop as carrying the best cannoli in Boston in 2018, and despite the 2019 closing, this standard has clearly been upheld as is showcased by the rave reviews regularly posted.
Even though the last of the cannoli were served on Sept. 15, the mark the pastry shop has left on the community is lasting. A quick look at Tripadvisor or Yelp proves the influence this bakery has had throughout the years, with reviews headlining “Best Cannoli in Town,” “Must Try,” and, notably, “The Cannolis are great… But There is So Much More!”
One review posted in May of this year says, “you can taste Maria’s pride in offering the best quality, homemade pastries, cakes, and cookies.”
This sense of devotion to the trade and pride in her product is what has kept both Maria’s Pastry Shop and Maria Marelo so beloved as a staples of Boston for so many years.
In 2013, the blog Nom Nom Cat said Maria’s Pastry Shop outshined three other classic Boston spots, both in the quality of the food and in that of the overall experience.
“While we waited for our three pastries to be filled and boxed up, we were surprised to meet a little furry feline who wandered in through the front door,” the bloggers said. “We thought it was a stray that had come to visit but a woman from the bakery beckoned it to come inside and stay inside. Apparently it belongs to Maria’s and had gone on an adventure!”
It is these individualized experiences that have made a stop to Maria’s Pastry Shop such a special experience for so many throughout the years and that make the recent closing so bittersweet.
As a Yelper wrote in the final weeks of Maria’s Pastry Shop’s operation, “Order an espresso, have a seat and take in the atmosphere while you still can. From the platters of marzipan fruit to the maps of Italian regional cuisines, to old family photos and signs reading ‘the best man for the job is a woman,’ there is an unpretentious old school vibe that has all but disappeared from our world.”
Image Courtesy of Terrance B. Doyle / Boston Eater