Stonington bakery opens coffee bar in Ledyard

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Ledyard — Zest Fresh Pastry has been a regular vendor at the farmers market here that ended last week but now residents won't have to wait until spring or drive all the way to Stonington Borough to get their sweets.

The bakery, which currently operates out of the Velvet Mill, opened a coffee shop next to Holdridge Home and Garden Showplace with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday evening. The space, which opens for business at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, formerly housed The Freckled Fox, which offered sustainable housewares.

Mayor Fred Allyn III, holding a green ribbon with white polka dots to match the green accents in the Zest Coffee Bar décor, said the opening was an exciting time for not only the business but also the town, which has been trying to be more welcoming to new businesses. The fact that Zest’s famous scones are now within walking distance of Town Hall probably doesn’t hurt.

“It may or may not be a known fact that I have this incredible addiction to their scones,” he said, noting that he tried to get one every time he was at the farmers market on Wednesday nights. “I suspect that Zest will see me a good bit."

After the ribbon was cut, owner Gabriella Withrow held back tears as she thanked the crowd of family, friends and community members, as well as her co-owner Erin Morris, who wasn’t able to make the opening; she moved back to her hometown in California in 2016 and has since opened Zest’s West Coast bakery, affectionately nicknamed “Zest West.”

“We had a dream, and it was shared, and it was passionate, and we jumped out on a limb despite our husbands thinking we were crazy,” she said. “Seven years later, we’re here, and I couldn’t have done it without her, and furthermore I couldn’t have done it without my amazing, amazing employees."

Withrow, who lives in Ledyard, said Zest got its start at the farmers market in town in 2012. That summer, she and Morris sold their scones, shortbread and brownies in Ledyard and at other markets in the region while renting kitchen space. Operations moved into the Velvet Mill later that winter and have since expanded into a bigger space there to keep up with market and store demand and a growing wedding cake business.

Friday morning, as she bounced between taking baked goods out of the oven and feeding crushed raspberries to her 8-month-old daughter, Zoe, Withrow said the idea for Zest Coffee Bar came out of a longtime dream of hers.

"I'm really familiar with the town, and for my own selfish reasons I'd love a little coffee shop there," she said with a laugh. "This space became available, and it was just the right size, right square footage, the perfect layout, great location, and we just did it."

Even before the opening, she received a lot of support from the community, citing the huge following Zest has in Ledyard. She said she was looking forward to seeing familiar faces from the market.

While the Velvet Mill location serves coffee, its focus is on the pastries; visitors to the mill can smell the bakery inside before they approach its chalkboard-painted door. Zest Coffee Bar, on the other hand, showcases the coffee, which comes from Ashlawn Farm.

Withrow said Zest always has been "very do-it-ourselves" in sourcing locally and creating its own purees and other ingredients rather than depending on pre-made products, and she's looking forward to using that philosophy in the coffees through syrups and other specialty items.

She said the coffee shop will carry some of Zest's most popular pastries in addition to a few cakes and occasional specials. Each of the locations attracts a slightly different crowd, so combined with the Stonington location and the farmers market presence in the summers, everyone will be able to find what they want.

Zest Coffee Bar is located at 749 Colonel Ledyard Highway. For more information, visit zestfreshpastry.com.

a.hutchinson@theday.com

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