When Bettina Scemama’s great aunt would visit her from Germany, she would bake apfelkuchen — a traditional apple cake with warm spices and a dense, buttery dough. Now, Scemama makes the same delicacy in her own bakery.
Inspired by her German heritage and love of pastries, Scemama launched Bettina’s Bakery, a new cafe in Newton Upper Falls that opened Oct. 5.
From schnitzel to streuselkuchen to German ham and cheese, Scemama said she is incorporating the flavors and memories of her youth into her kitchen.
“I’ve always wanted to have my own bakery, that’s been a long-term dream,” Scemama said. “Baking is this avenue of sharing something cultural and comforting, and I think there’s always going to be room for it.”
Scemama graduated from college with a psychology degree but said she soon realized her passion was baking. Since then, she has worked as a pastry chef for several decades, most recently at Haley House, a Boston-based bakery with an emphasis on community activism and empowerment. It was there she met Naun Rivera, who became her business partner at Bettina’s Bakery.
The pair began looking for rental spaces in January and settled on 295 Elliot St., which was once the home of Bob’s Sub Stop, a hot and cold sandwich restaurant. They broke down the walls to reveal exposed brick, and Bettina’s Bakery opened its doors by early October.
Deciding to start her own business was “a now or not moment,” Scemama said.
“If I waited too long, I don’t know if I’d still have the energy and the drive to do it,” Scemama said. Like many people since the pandemic struck, she asked herself, “Okay, what do I really want to do with the rest of my life?”
Scemama said she and Rivera decided to set up shop in Upper Falls because of its suburban environment — she saw a need for breakfast and lunch restaurants in the area, especially as people continue to work from home through the pandemic.
Besides Bettina’s Bakery, more cafes are popping up across Newton — a Tatte Bakery and Cafe location opened in Newton Centre Oct. 27 and Flourhouse Bakery will open a retail space in Nonantum in the coming months.
Rivera, who manages production and the kitchen, supplies the second half of the Bettina’s Bakery menu: Latino pastries. Rivera, who immigrated from Honduras about 25 years ago, said his love of cakes encouraged him to become a pastry chef.
In joining forces with Scemama to create their own bakery, Rivera said they combined their “roots” from Germany and Honduras to create a personal menu reflecting the food they ate growing up.
One Honduran delicacy they serve at Bettina’s is concha, a brioche bread topped with cinnamon sugar and commonly served with a hot drink for breakfast or as a snack. While making the bread is “two-day’s work,” Rivera said it’s his favorite pastry to make — he’s doing what he loves, he said, so the somewhat complicated baking process never feels like a chore.
“You have to enjoy what you do,” Rivera said. “One day, I [baked] for the first time, and I said, ‘This is it, this is what I want to do, that’s what I want to be.’”
Besides concha, the bakery’s signature pastry, the menu features other Honduran cuisine, including a warm corn drink called atol de elote, refried beans and eggs over a soft flour tortilla known as baleada, Honduran chicken tacos, and a Honduran breakfast plate with sweet plantains, tortillas, eggs, queso duro, refried beans, and avocado.
Bettina’s Bakery is slowly building its customer base, Scemama said, and holiday treats such as Thanksgiving pies will soon be available.
Upper Falls is home to many families with children, Scemama said, so she decided to make the bakery completely nut-free from day one. Now, Scemama keeps Bettina’s open in the afternoon so kids getting off the school bus can pick up a pastry on their way home.
Doran Robinson, who lives around the corner from Bettina’s Bakery, said it is already “a regular stop” for him and his two children before and after school.
“I was a little nervous that it was just going to be baked goods and not sandwiches, because I felt like that wouldn’t necessarily be the best for my health,” Robinson said with a laugh. “But when I saw that there were some breakfast items and lunch items, I felt like it was a great addition to the neighborhood.”
Scemama said her family’s traditions and the community’s response keeps her in the kitchen.
“Baking just makes people happy,” Scemama said. “I think in many ways, it’s a tradition that we’re fighting to keep alive, to make stuff from scratch.”
Cameron Morsberger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.