Phil Gai helped to build Gai's Bakery into Seattle's largest baking company by catering to customers' exacting needs. When the Space Needle...

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Phil Gai helped to build Gai’s Bakery into Seattle’s largest baking company by catering to customers’ exacting needs.

When the Space Needle Restaurant in its early years wanted fresh French bread seven days a week, twice a day, Gai’s delivered. When customers wanted French bread sliced instead of whole, Gai’s became one of the first bakers to sell it that way.

“He tried to create a baking company back then that was kind of one-stop shopping,” said his son, Don Gai. “That was the uniqueness of their philosophy.”

That strategy turned Gai’s into a Seattle baking institution. At its height in the 1980s, the company employed 1,400 people from Vancouver, B.C., to Portland. Its 480 trucks delivered loaves, rolls and buns all over the region, from the haute dining room at Canlis to McDonald’s restaurants and grocery stores.

Mr. Gai died of natural causes yesterday morning at Cascade Vista nursing home in Redmond. He was 80.

Mr. Gai was known as the company’s Mr. Outside. He was the gregarious, dynamic counterpart to his more reserved older brother, Henry, who as Mr. Inside tended to Gai’s baking operations.

The brothers took over the baking business started by their father, Giglio, an immigrant from Roccella, Italy. Giglio baked French bread in a brick oven in his home and delivered it door to door.

In 1931, he opened New Home Bakery at 20th Avenue South and South Jackson Street.

By 1941, the family business had become Gai’s Seattle French Baking. It was the top specialty-bread baker in the state. All three of Giglio’s children, including daughter Rose, helped out.

In the 1970s and ’80s, with the two brothers in charge, Gai’s diversified from supplying restaurants to baking buns for McDonald’s, Burger King and other fast-food chains.

Rosalie DeLaurenti began working at Gai’s in 1962 while attending school to help her sister, the company’s office manager, file papers. She wound up staying for 37 years.

DeLaurenti remembered Mr. Gai as an outgoing man and a deft cake decorator who had a passion for baking and for his large family. “There weren’t two more wonderful people you could wish to work for,” DeLaurenti said.

Henry Gai died in 1983. Gai’s Bakery merged with San Francisco French Bread in 1992, and Mr. Gai retired.

Mr. Gai left his longtime home in West Seattle two years ago to move into the nursing home. His wife, Dorothy, still lives in the couple’s home.

In addition to his wife and son Don, Mr. Gai is survived by daughters Lorraine Gai of Seattle, Elaine Galando of Bellevue, Sandra Divelbiss of Kirkland and Tina Aldridge of Woodinville; sons Ron Gai of Redmond and Mike Gai of Woodinville; sister Rose Scalzo of Bellevue; and 16 grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Kyung Song: 206-464-2423