NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — A lot of free time at home, a willingness to explore and a grandmother’s old Italian recipes are a few of the ingredients that went into Carolena’s, the new family bakery in Narragansett’s North End.
Started by Rick and Jenn Armstrong and their daughters Caroline, 7, and Lena, 5, (the bakery got its name from the girls), Carolena’s had a busy soft opening March 20 and 21. The family filled lots of zeppole orders for St. Joseph’s Day.
A more formal opening will take place this weekend, and the Armstrongs are gearing up for a busy Easter season of making cookie baskets.
“We made probably over 200 zeppoles,” Rick said. “We got a lot of positive feedback from people excited to have something new and something they don’t often see around here, because we make everything homemade from scratch. Everything’s made by us.”
The business came together initially when everything shut down last year because of COVID-19. Suddenly the girls and their parents, both educators, were at home with lots of downtime, so they decided to try different things and resurrect fun pastimes.
“In high school and college, Jenn worked in a bakery,” Rick said. “Ever since we met, we’ve always enjoyed cooking and baking things.”
Armstrong also had strong childhood memories of helping his grandmother Lucia Rose, an immigrant from Pratola Peligna, Italy, in the kitchen. When she passed away, a cousin compiled her recipes in a cookbook.
“We have all of my grandmother’s recipes,” he said.
The couple’s daughters started showing an interest in baking last year, and got hooked on the show “Kids Baking Championship” on the Food Network.
“They just loved it,” Rick said. “They showed an interest and we started baking a lot more, making cakes for special occasions and dropping them off for friends and family.”
The couple wondered if they could make what had become a fun family activity into a small business. In Rhode Island, regulations mean that bakeries must exist outside of homes, in a designated retail location.
An opportunity presented itself in February when space within the Gansett Poke shop at 1004 Boston Neck Road opened up, and the Armstrongs jumped at the chance. They share half of the space with Gansett Poke and plan to have a new sign installed by this week, Rick said.
Fortunately, the location is also around the corner from their home.
“And it worked out for us really well,” Rick said. The couple has been able to work their “day jobs” from home, and the girls are home-schooled too.
The bakery’s doors are open for customers to pick-up orders on the weekends, and orders can be placed at any time on its website, carolenas.com, where there’s an online menu of homemade cookies, cakes and pastries. The bakery asks for a 48-hour window to turn around an order, and it can do special orders. It also offers nut-free and gluten-free fare.
“We asked people what they’d like to see from an Italian bakery, and some said they’d never gotten to eat a cannoli because it had gluten,” Rick said. “We don’t put any nuts in our products and don’t use anything processed.”
Those were developed from research and experimentation, he said. But the recipes from his grandmother are the more traditional Italian fare, such as a specific brand of pizzelles from Pratola. Those are made using a specially forged hot iron, inscribed with the initials of the owner — in this case, his mother. He also plans to take possession of other family irons from the mid-1900s, he said.
As for the division of work, Rick said he and Jenn split duties equally.
“I make my grandmother’s recipes,” he said. “She’s the artistic one.”
Their daughters are excited about the venture too.
“They had some friends from school stop by,” Rick said. “And they were definitely excited on their Zoom calls last week, saying they were opening a bakery.”