Bella's Bakery Caters to Kids with Allergies
The bakery's cupcakes have become popular in Millburn-Short Hills
Bella's Bakery isn't named after its owner. Instead, it's named after owner Janet Antico's daughter, who has a nut allergy.
The bakery, which opened last fall on Essex Street, sells nut-free baked goods, and it's most known in Millburn-Short Hills for its cupcakes, which range from classic yellow with chocolate frosting to red velvet.
While the retail shop is Antico's first, the bakery has essentially existed since Bella was in kindergarten. She is now a student at Millburn Middle School.
Antico never intended to be a pastry chef, although it's something she learned to love, but rather a caterer. She left her job in finance and went to culinary school in London when Bella was born and later learned of her nut allergy.
Once they moved back to Short Hills 10 years ago, Bella, then in preschool, had an allergy attack when she held hands with another girl who had just eaten a peanut butter sandwich.
"I was scared," Antico said. "That's when I started educating myself. And when she was in kindergarten, I offered to make all the treats for everyone's birthday just to keep her safe."
Other parents throughout Millburn-Short Hills heard about Antico's efforts and started asking her to make treats for their children who had allergies.
"I wasn't ready to make a business out of it, but I couldn't say no," she said. "It was complete word of mouth between mothers. Everyone talks. Moms can be the best network."
She worked out of her house for years before deciding it was time to get the business "out in the open."
Antico said she verifies everything she uses in her baked goods is nut-free from the flour and sugar to the sprinkles. And she will re-verify with manufacturers because things can change, she said.
"Extracts and sprinkles and cocoa can be difficult to verify," she said. "I've been living it so I know what to ask."
Everything she uses is of high-quality, Antico said, and cited she uses Vermont Nut Free for her cocoa.
"If you use high-quality ingredients, you will get great results," she said.
While there are no nuts used in her kitchen or in her food, she does use eggs and dairy. She will make items without eggs and dairy and has tools used specifically for those items, but she makes sure parents know the ingredients are on the premises.
While cookies and brownies and special-order cakes can be had, cupcakes remain the most popular item at Bella's Bakery.
"Vanilla-vanilla is the most popular," Antico said. "You wouldn't think it."
The red velvet cupcakes have become a regular on the daily menu although that wasn't always the case, she said.
"I try to switch things up," she said. "I love to experiment."
Some of her experiments have included cinnamon bun, banana, lemon, strawberry shortcakes and orange cupcakes. The orange cupcakes feature white chocolate icing.
"It tasted just like a creamsicle, which was what we were going for," Antico said. "I try to be seasonal."
She also takes requests. If people ask for a certain cupcake, she said, she'll try to make a batch to accommodate people's tastes.
Additionally, specialty cakes are popular, but she needs five days of notice because they are time-consuming. She also makes an egg-free Challah bread, which is popular at area Jewish preschools, she said. The preschools have Friday bread blessings, but the traditional bread is filled with eggs, she said.
In the near future, there will be tables and chairs on the patio behind Bella's Bakery with longer summer hours. The bakery, which is normally open until 5 p.m., will be open until 9 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
But further in the future, Antico said she wants to bake bread.
"I wanted to get going with everything else first," she said. "Once I figure out the retail demands, it's something I want to do. I just can't take it on yet."