Every now and then, we experience a place, song, or smell that transports us to a moment in our lives; in that second, we are flooded with the memories associated with it and we are transported. It is as if you had stepped into a time machine and are living it all over again. When walking into Varano Bakery in the heart of Bethel, CT this is exactly what happens to me, every time. Cranking up my memory machine, the first thing that hits me is the smell of pastry and confectionery goods igniting my olfactory system, followed by the rows of colorful cakes, cookies, and pastries electrifying my retinas. At this moment, a spark in my brain goes off and in a dopamine-induced explosion I am transported to my Grandmother's side as a small child shopping for groceries together in Flushing, NY. We have been to the butcher's and produce store for everything she needs but the "best for last" stop is to the local bakery. The owner knows her well and greets her fondly by name. The cases are full of delights that, if I had my way, would all be going home with us. Pastry boxes are filled with a selection of cookies and cakes and we walk home together hand in hand with the makings of fond childhood memories forever burned in place.
Theresa & Steve Varano have created a special place that has a history rooted in so much more than the 19 years that their bakery has graced our town. It turns out there is a lot of fate involved in Bethel being fortunate enough to have Varano's in town. Back in the 1970's, Steve Varano's parents moved from Italy to Boston, MA and opened a bakery which was in business for 15 years. They returned to Italy for a period but moved back to Boston in 1999 and were eventually drawn down to Mahopac, NY. There they purchased a bakery, keeping the family tradition alive and going until they decided it was time to retire, sell the bakery, and settle into a life of relaxation. But when a business like Varano's is in your blood, you don't stay away from the desserts for too long. In an incredibly fortunate twist of fate, they got lost exploring Danbury in 2001 and ended up on Greenwood Ave. in Bethel, CT. They immediately fell in love with the town's charm. In a double twist of fate, the space that is now occupied by Varano's was vacant and available to rent and the rest, as they say, is history.
Theresa and Steve's love story is another one for the books! Having known each other since childhood, both of their families moved back and forth from the US to Italy. There were times that the two ended up on different continents until finally, their love story found its happy ending in 2005 when they married; to this day, they continue to run Varano's. Steve, having grown up helping his parents since he was a child, is no stranger to the bakery business. Everything he makes has been passed down from his family; all the recipes and skill come from heritage and tradition. He tells me that his favorite thing to make is wedding cakes. They have a book in the shop full of photos of cakes Steve has baked over the years and they are all a sight to see.
In talking with Theresa Varano, she tells me she's always loved Bethel. "We have such a great community. In times like this pandemic people just pull together. It's so nice to be a part of everyone's special occasions. Baptism to graduation to weddings. You get to see the families grow and be part of those celebrations that surround these lives. Plus, you get to know some of these folks and they become like family to us." When the lockdown happened and they had to remove the tables and chairs from the bakery, Theresa said she really missed what they fondly call the "Breakfast Club" that has been coming in for the past 19 years. But through it all, the Breakfast Club still came in to visit, and now a few tables and chairs are back, allowing folks a chance to sit and enjoy a leisurely coffee and baked goodie.
Varano's is a sweet staple of our town with an endless list of choices -- everyone has their favorites. I wondered, is it even possible to get bored of cake? I asked Theresa and Steve and learned that after a lifetime of baking, Steve is not as interested in dessert as most of us, but Theresa still loves her sweets. She told me that her favorite is a hazelnut cake with raspberry jam and it's obvious others love it too: they go very fast so it's recommended to get in early if you want to try it for yourself! Their son Domenic,14 has started to help out at the shop and their daughter Briana, 11 is anxious to be allowed to work there as well. Hopefully this is a tradition in the making and that future generations many years from now will still make joyous memories together at Varano's Bakery!