Norwalk resident Anna Buckner was one of the first patrons to visit Wave Hill Breads' new cafe at 30 High St. after it opened last Tuesday.
"Bonjour," she said to a familiar face who had walked into the cafe, just one of a constant stream of people who came in last Thursday to try the soup of the day -- tomato soup -- and a grilled cheese sandwich, made, of course, on the freshly baked bread Wave Hill has become known for.
"The French Country bread is as good as it is in France, and I can say that because I'm French," Buckner said.
She said she sees herself becoming a regular at the new cafe and plans to bring her girlfriends there to catch up and enjoy coffee and croissants.
"This type of place is hard to come by in Norwalk," she said.
Founded in Wilton in 2005 by the husband-and-wife team of Margaret Sapir and Mitch Rapoport, Wave Hill Breads supplies stores and restaurants throughout Connecticut, New York and New Jersey and sells at farmers' markets throughout the summer. The bakery outgrew its 1,100-square-foot space in Wilton before moving to 3,200-square-foot quarters at High Street in Norwalk in June.
That's when the owners began considering dividing the space to make room for a retail area/cafe to bring people together to enjoy new breads and pastries developed under the direction of Michael Devlin, general manager and chef, who joined the business full-time last year.
Among the pastries sold in the cafe are a French energy muffin, based on the muffin made for the Tour de France bikers before their races; a roasted corn muffin made from roasted corn off the cob; coconut meringue clouds; gibassier, a French pastry from Provence made with their own candied orange peel, fresh orange juice, olive oil and anise; sticky buns; Danish pastries; and almond and chocolate croissants.
Last spring, Wave Hill Breads introduced two new breads developed by Devlin: three-grain olive and roasted red pepper ciabatta and American whole grain multigrain.
A soup and sandwich of the day also are on the menu, and Java Love coffee compliments the offerings. Wi-Fi service is available.
Sapir said she never imagined the success of Wave Hill Breads, and was encouraged by the foot traffic coming into the cafe last week. Last Thursday, most of the tables were filled with customers, while others came in to get their lunch or pastries to go.
"It's amazing. My feet started killing me yesterday," Sapir said with a laugh, just two days after the cafe's ribbon cutting. "It's heartwarming to know it's a real business. When I did the projections for this, I didn't project what we did yesterday and today."
She and Rapoport didn't exactly set out to be entrepreneurs and essentially stumbled upon the bread-making business. They both have master's degrees and were doing "other things," Sapir said.
"Mitch was involved with the Internet. ... I worked for MacMillan doing corporate acquisitions, but then ran its Berlitz program, which provided foreign language learning programs to kids in schools.
"We were in Stowe, Vt., at Blue Moon Cafe, and tasted some incredible bread. We started buying it from stores and then we decided to apprentice ourselves to the Frenchman who was making it -- Gerard Rubaud."
Rubaud is a master French baker now based in Westford, Vt.
Wave Hill Breads started delivering bread to farmers markets in 2005, and the bakery made only one recipe -- a three-grain poolish-based dough -- until last spring. The breads are made from unbleached wheat flour, organic spelt and organic rye berries that are milled for each batch, sea salt, water and a pinch of yeast. The "pre-fermentation" is mixed and left to develop for six hours before it is incorporated into the dough.
The dough is then put in specially made maple and oak troughs to ferment before it is rounded and shaped. It then proofs again before baking. The steaming jets in the oven help form the crispy golden brown crusts and "grignes," the ridges that are started by slashes with a lame on the tops of the loaves before they bake. Once removed from the oven, which holds 300 loaves, the loaves are left to cool on oak racks. The entire process lasts around 12 hours.
Sapir said Wave Hill Breads had a presence at 20 farmers markets a week last summer and will continue being a part of that scene, now adding pastries to the mix. She thrives on the community aspect of the markets.
"My son is a junior in college," Sapir said. "He grew up with us at farmer's markets and it meant a lot to him because he is an only child. For his college essay, he wrote about the community at the farmer's markets."
Sapir pointed out she is selling products at the cafe that are made by Connecticut companies she's interacted with at farmer's markets, including Mamacats Teas from Wilton, Boxed Goodes spices from Litchfield and Winding Drive Jams from Woodbury.
Like at the farmer's markets, Sapir hopes people feel a sense of community at Wave Hill Breads cafe.
At the ribbon-cutting event, she pointed out photographs on the walls, which were taken by Westport photographer Pamela Einarsen.
"Her photographs celebrate family," Sapir said. "I hope it will be the beginning of other art shows and reasons for people to gather together as a community."
The cafe is open Tuesday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and weekends from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Visit www.wavehillbreads.com to see the daily soup and sandwich special. The Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce will host a networking breakfast at the cafe from 7:45 to 9 a.m. on Wednesday. The cost is $25, $15 for members. For reservations or more information, call 203-866-2521.
"It's great to be here. I am eyeing that big chocolate chip cookie over there. And not for my kids, for me," Duff said. "The mayor is fond of saying that Norwalk is a city on the move and Norwalk is a city on the move. Many of us for 2012 look at the city and our nation much more optimistically than previously during this recession we have been involved in. So I think looking at this new business that is opening up, and how great it is, and how many people are here, shows that the optimism we feel is real, and we have a business that is poised to succeed and do well."