The Day – Taftville’s new Italian Bakery and Market will feature Italian imports and local specialties

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Norwich – Like a rapidly emerging jigsaw picture, the pieces come together for a smooth opening of La Stella’s new Italian Bakery and Pasta & Pastry Market in Taftville, as onlookers eagerly await the finished picture.

Justin Burrows, owner of La Stella’s Pizzeria in Norwich city centre, new partner Jean Stott – former owner of the popular Stott’s At Bat ice cream and sandwich shop opposite Dodd Stadium – and several other staff worked on Thursday to prepare for an opening scheduled for early February.

The pasta shop, bakery and Italian Market will take over the former Poppy & Rye Bakery at 137 Norwich Ave., Taftville, with approximately 15 employees once it is operational.

Burrows said he could not yet provide a date for a full opening. “Everything has to be perfect,” he said. This includes defining the recipe and baking the iconic Russian rye bread made by Poppy & Rye owners Bob and Tom Adams.

On Thursday, Executive Chef Erasto Gonzalez learned the tricks to making perfect bagels with Chef Bryan Kalat. Burrows and Stott moved from room to room to fine-tune the finishes. The new rooftop sign leaned against the front of baked goods display cases, and the pasta-making station awaited a glass viewing window that will allow customers to watch the making of nine different pastas.

Three round tables for seating have giant maps of Italy, one of the boot of Italy, one of Sicily, and one of Sardinia. A fixed bar can accommodate four more people. The restaurant portion will offer specialty Italian sandwiches, deli sandwiches and beverages. Indoor seating is inside the main door in the bakery section.

The Italian market occupies the right half of the building. The shop will offer an eclectic mix of specialty gourmet Italian imports, such as dry pasta, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and wedge cheese. An antique wooden table that has belonged to the Adams family for generations will feature dry pasta.

Well-known brands from eastern Connecticut will share the room with the imports.

La Vache Fermière will have a showcase for its dairy products and eggs. A library with Italian cookbooks for sale has shelves reserved for books by local authors. Best-selling author Wally Lamb already has a full shelf. Local historian Ken Keeley will also have a shelf. Pop’s Premium Ice Cream will be in the store’s freezer, along with New Haven’s Gelato Giuliana.

Another local favorite arrived Thursday: multiple cases of Willimantic’s Hosmer Mountain Soda.

Burrows said he wants La Stella’s to support local businesses as much as residents and workers. A portion of the freshly made pasta from the shop will be donated to the St. Vincent de Paul Place soup kitchen in downtown Norwich.

“I want La Stella to be a brand, but my whole thing is to be community-based,” Burrows said. “We brought in Jean Stott. She has always been known in Norwich.

Stott will be head baker. Stott’s former ice cream shop and sandwich shop on Stott Avenue across from the Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium was relocated by a large solar field project. She put away her apron for six years to work in an office.

When Burrow’s first partner couldn’t pursue the project, La Stella’s marketing consultant Laura Harrington suggested he talk to Stott. The former Stott’s at Bat marquee now decorates the wall below the Cooking Station’s viewing window.

“It’s good to be back,” Stott said Thursday. “I’ve been gone for six years.

Famous local pastry chef Felicia Kile is already busy making bespoke cakes for the company. La Stella started selling cakes at the downtown pizzeria, and they sold out quickly, Burrows said. Now that the team is familiar with the ovens in the new market, the cake-making operation has moved there. Burrows apologized to a customer picking up a cake on Thursday for the shop’s disheveled appearance, promising it would be better next time.

Norwich Craftsman Cliff’s Roasters city center coffee maker will take pride of place in the shop, with an authentic Italian espresso bar, grinding station allowing customers to buy and grind beans by the pound and cups of coffee and hot chocolate from Craftsman Cliff on the menu. Craftsman Cliff owner Matthew DuTrumble creates a special blend of dark or light coffee from La Stella. The shop will also sell Craftsman Cliff take-out hot chocolate bars.

And local chef Gabe Lipman has provided recipes and teaches La Stella’s crew how to make authentic Italian cookies, sold by the pound. These will be displayed in a display case, along with danishes, pastries and scones. The cannoli, Burrows said, will be made to order.

When the store first opens, Burrows said hours may be limited, but soon the store will be open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Busy throughout the pandemic, La Stella pizzeria will continue to operate as is, Burrows said, and he eventually hopes to offer home delivery to customers in the Italian market.

c.bessette@theday.com

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