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RI FOOD & DINING

Nana’s Bakery brings Mystic pizza magic to Westerly

The brick-walled space functions as an all-day café, and most of the drinks and dishes served are united by a common theme: fermentation

The "Rhode Island pizza" at Nana’s Bakery & Pizza, in Westerly, R.I.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

WESTERLY — When chef James Wayman and partners opened a second location of their Mystic, Conn., restaurant, Nana’s Bakery & Pizza, in Westerly, they added some hyper-local touches to the menu, including a pizza dubbed “The Rhode Island.”

The thin-crust sourdough pie is topped with the dry-cured Italian sausage soppressata (better known locally as “soupy”) from Westerly Meat Packing Company, briny chopped clams, and thin slices of creamy organic potato.

The new location, which Wayman and co-owners Aaron Laipply, Dave Vacca, and Corey Lein opened at 82 High St. in March, has more seating than the Mystic original, as well as a full bar with organic and biodynamic wines, beer and cocktails. The brick-walled space functions as an all-day café, serving coffee, breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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Kellsie Calisto pours a mezcal margarita at Nana's Bakery & Pizza in Westerly.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Most of the drinks and dishes served at Nana’s are united by a common theme: fermentation. The process is highlighted in everything from the house-made blueberry kombucha, to the tempeh (fermented bean) burger, to the warm sourdough doughnuts.

“I approach food through the lens of traditional food culture, and fermentation is in most traditional food cultures in one way or another,” Wayman said. “But it also creates such interesting flavor profiles, and to me, at the end of the day, it’s just about making food taste good.”

The pizza’s crust — tender and slightly chewy, with a hint of tang, and coated on the bottom with Connecticut cornmeal — is cold-fermented overnight, which results in a more developed flavor than when the process occurs at room temperature.

Wayman and Vacca, who oversees baking, spent about a year formulating the recipe for the dough. It’s made from three kinds of flour, including locally grown wheat from Maine Grains.

Tempeh, which is fermented beans, is prepared at Nana’s Bakery & Pizza in Westerly.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Even the pizza sauce benefits from fermentation. It consists of tomatoes and shio koji, a seasoning made by fermenting salt, water and rice that has been introduced to the mold aspergillus oryzae. In Japan, the mold, also known as koji, has been used for centuries for the production of shoyu (soy sauce), miso and sake.

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The koji and fermented condiments used at Nana’s are sourced from its sister business, North Stonington, Conn.-based Moromi, which Wayman owns with partners Bob Florence and Debbi Michiko Florence.

“I love working with koji because it just has this inherent ability to make things taste more like themselves,” Wayman said. “In the sauce, it makes the tomato more tomato-y.”

Nana’s is incorporating the flavor booster into baked goods as well; for example, fermented koji milk is incorporated into the bakery’s brown butter chocolate chip cookie.

Wayman and partners opened the original Nana’s, in Mystic, in the fall of 2020. Within a year, the restaurant had earned several accolades including a place on Esquire magazine’s Best New Restaurants of 2021 list.

A dark chocolate glazed sourdoughnut in foreground and the "cacio de pepe" and cinnamon sugar sourdoughnut in the background at Nana's Bakery & Pizza in Westerly.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

When it debuted, Nana’s was part of the 85th Day Food Community restaurant group, which also includes the Mystic restaurants Engine Room and Oyster Club, as well as Stone Acres Farm in Stonington. Wayman worked as executive chef and partner for the group for about 10 years before parting ways with business partner Dan Meiser about a year ago.

Wayman, who describes the split as amicable, retained Nana’s and brought on Laipply as a business partner and Engine Room, Oyster Club and Stone Acres Farm stayed under Meiser’s ownership. Lein and Vacca joined as owners of Nana’s with the move into Westerly.

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He said he prefers the team ownership model because “you have different minds and strengths, and you can’t be good at everything.” The set up also offers more work-life balance than sole proprietorship, he added.

Guests sitting at the tables inside of Nana's Bakery & Pizza in Westerly. Barry Chin/Globe Staff

The partners weren’t necessarily planning to open a second location just eight miles from the original, but their landlord Chuck Royce — who also owns the luxury hotel Ocean House and several other buildings downtown — and his son-in-law Dan King approached them with an opportunity to move into a space in the back of the recently renovated United Theatre.

Royce, King, and his wife, Jennifer, frequented the Oyster Club and Engine Room and were longtime fans of Wayman’s cooking and his dedication to local sourcing.

“We thought, what group could be better to come in and partner with us for this incredible food element,” said King, director of economic development projects for the Royce Family Fund. “We love their creativity and their energy.”

The tempeh burger at Nana's Bakery & Pizza in Westerly.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Through their nonprofit fund and personal real estate holdings, the Royce family has driven much of downtown Westerly’s revitalization, which has given residents, as well as the visitors from around the world who stay at Ocean House, more reason to hang out there.

“My favorite way to bring people into these downtown areas is to create a lure they can’t resist,” King said. “So, if you have places like Nana’s and they’re putting out this incredible food with fermented wheats and great service, visitors aren’t going to want to stay in their hotel rooms.”

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Wayman added that Westerly was a good fit for Nana’s because of the town’s strong community feel. “We really like being over here because there’s always something going on and there are a lot of families, which is nice,” he said.

James Wayman is the chef and owner of Nana's Bakery & Pizza in Westerly.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Wayman grew up in the Greensboro, North Carolina, area and spent many of his formative years on his grandfather’s berry farm. At age 14, got his first job in the industry, as a dishwasher at an Italian restaurant named Crocodile’s.

After starting college as an English major, he quickly realized that cooking was a more fitting career path for him and started researching culinary schools. In the early ′90s, he reached out to two, The Culinary Institute of America, in Hyde Park, N.Y., and Johnson & Wales University, in Providence.

“CIA never got back to me, but Johnson & Wales was super responsive and made the process easy, so off I went,” he said.

After graduating in 1996, he stayed nearby, working as head chef at Water Street Café in Stonington, Conn., and executive chef at The River Tavern in Chester, Conn., before partnering with Meiser to open several concepts under the 85th Day Food Community restaurant group.

Wayman, who lives in North Stonington with his wife, Heather, and 1-year-old son, Alder, says “the area is super special from a cook’s standpoint.”

“There are a ton of farms,” he said. “There’s incredible seafood. There is a lot of nature, which I love spending time in. I just never had an inclination to leave.”

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Nana’s Bakery & Pizza is located at 82 High St. in Westerly, 401-213-3911, nanasri.com.

Chef James Wayman (third from left) of Nana's Bakery & Pizza in Westerly, with some members of his team.Barry Chin/Globe Staff