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Providence bakeries, coffee shop earn sweet victory

City tops list of America’s best locations for sweet treats, boasts tight-knit baking community

Travel and Leisure Magazine readers ranked Providence second on a list of America’s Best Cities for Sweet Tooths released April 1, as determined by an online survey of 38 cities in a variety of culinary categories. Besting nearby neighbors New York City and Boston by three and 18 spots, respectively, Providence was commended for its classic haunt Scialo Bros. Bakery, newer offerings such as North Bakery and Seven Stars Bakery and craft coffee shops such as Dave’s Coffee.

Earlier this week, Providence topped the list, the Providence Journal reported, but the ranking on the Travel and Leisure site has since changed to reflect Houston as the winner.

“Something that people look for is diversity in food and pastries,” said Kelly Dull, the pastry manager at North Bakery. “It has to do with innovation … Providence is growing a lot.”

When Seven Stars opened in Providence 14 years ago, the food scene was still predominantly “old-school Italian,” but owners Lynn and Jim Williams have since witnessed an explosion in both food selection and quality, Lynn Williams said.

The growing abundance of sweet offerings alone does not fully explain the city’s silver medal finish, at least not in the realm of desserts, she said. “I wouldn’t say Providence folk seem particularly obsessed with sugar.”

Rather, a tight-knit community may propel the demand for cakes, custards and confections in the city, Dull said. Local bakeries garner groups of loyal customers “to the point where when I see them walk in the door I know exactly what they are going to get,” she said.

For bakeries in particular, consistent recipes and homey environments are the keys to maintaining customer loyalty across generations. “Bakeries are different than restaurants,” Williams said. “Bakeries balance changing things up and always having people’s favorites.”

Fresh out of the oven, a pastry succeeds if it elicits both recognition and newfound appreciation, urging the customer to think, “‘This is very nostalgic for me, but so much better than what I grew up eating,’” Dull said.

Dave’s Coffee specializes in producing regional nostalgia. As a native Rhode Islander, owner David Lanning grew up on coffee milk, the state’s official drink. But disenchantment with common additives in coffee syrup, such as high fructose corn syrup, led Lanning to craft a homemade twist on the local refreshment. Dave’s All Natural Cold Brewed Coffee Syrup hit supermarket shelves in 2012 and has received praise from celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern. The reduction of roasted coffee blended with pure cane sugar represents a liquid treat  for Providence sweet tooths among the winning pastries.

“I was surprised,” Lanning said of magazine readers’ inclusion of Dave’s. “We’re a coffee shop, not a bakery.”

The remaining ingredient in Providence’s sweet success story rests in a community approach — the rapport between owners who see each other not as competitors but as fellow food enthusiasts.

“Bakers are pretty down-to-earth kind of people. We look out for each other,” Williams said, adding that the network that has formed through professional events and social media allows local bakers to borrow each other’s equipment.

Within the local cafe community, a Providence Coffee Society has even formed, allowing owners to compare techniques and face off in the occasional “latte art throwdown,” Lanning said.

While North strives to set itself apart from other Providence bakeries, the different shops “can all share the success,” Dull said.



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