When Kendele Noto was 12, her dad would pick her up after school and bring her to the family business, a bakery in St. Charles.
"I told her, 'We're going to pay you a wage, but you're going have to do the work,' " Jasper Noto said.
Kendele and her older sister, Courtney, started off with jobs like folding pastry boxes or filling up the cookie pans. Kendele always wanted to do more, her father said.
"I would ice the cake so that all I had left to do was the border, and I let her pipe it on," he said. "Pretty soon she wanted to learn how to do the writing."
Kendele, now 23, is still behind the counter at J. Noto's Fine Italian Confections, only she's the one running the kitchen these days. She's the third generation of the Noto family to work in the bakery at 336 South Main Street.
Back when Jasper Noto started the business in 1973, the St. Louis area had dozens of family owned bakeries, but now there are only about a dozen. So another generation taking over in the business is becoming a rare thing.
Pete Rosciglione, whose family bakery is one of the oldest in the area — it's been around since the 1890s — said that the bakery business is not for everybody.
"This is strictly physical, hands-on labor every day, at least 12 hours a day," he said.
Kendele Noto said even she didn't want to go into the family business at first. After graduating from Duchesne High School, she attended culinary school at Forest Park Community College and learned about soups and sauces and butchering.
She got a job at Racquet Club Ladue, where she prepared salads and worked on the grill. But she was drawn back to the family business.
"I saw what else was out there, and I decided we have a lot of potential here," she said.
Noto said she's worked hard to balance tradition with a more modern take on the business. So while she's preserved the Italian cookie recipes of her great-grandparents from Sicily, she's started a website, a Facebook page and a Twitter account.
She's also kept up with the trends in baking, like cupcakes, and mini-desserts like cake pops. She's learned to make chocolate and is developing seasonal specialties like a blackberry crumb cheesecake she hopes to debut this spring.
"I take existing recipes that my dad has and change them to go with more modern styles or what's new for the season," she said. "We never have a set menu because we're constantly changing it and creating new things."
She's also trained with some of the top pastry chefs in the country, like Colette Peters of New York.
In December, one of Noto's designs won top honors at a gingerbread house competition at Plaza Frontenac. But her favorite dessert is more traditional — a chocolate covered cannoli with ricotta cheese filling.
The popularity of shows on the Food Network and TLC, like "Cake Boss," are slowly changing the bakery business, she said.
"People are going to spend more money on birthday cakes because they want that Cake Boss or Food Network design, and we are open to creating the new fondant and topsy-turvy cakes that look like they are falling over," she said.
The business is still run entirely by family members. Kendele's grandmother, Florence Noto, helps in the kitchen, and Courtney Noto waits on customers behind the counter.
"Sometimes we fight with each other, but our family is so tight-knit, I wouldn't want it any other way," she said.
Jasper Noto, 60, has turned over the cake baking duties to his daughter, and he joked that he's the one who needs lessons now. But he still gets involved with the construction of the cakes and helps his daughter figure out how to stabilize some of the more unusual designs.
"It makes me proud to see what she can do," he said.