Susan Zara, baking sweets for 37 years

 

By Wendy Pollitzer

Featured in The Island News

Jan. 28, 201

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Susan Zara

Susan Zara, owner of SuZara’s Kitchen, has always had a passion for baking.

She started baking as a child. “My mom was a fantastic chef, always in the kitchen, cooking with Julia Childs’ cookbooks,” she says. “I guess I developed a love of baking then. I liked to bake cookies.”

After graduating high school, a friend gave her a bread-baking cookbook, her first cookbook ever. She made breads for years and gained experience in the kitchen. And, she was a natural. She baked for all her friends and family.

While in college at Lyndon State College in Vermont, she worked at the Town and Country Inn, which is where she first discovered her fervor for both baking and the food and beverage industry. She realized then that this could become a career.

She finished college at Ithaca College in New York and continued to succeed in restaurants, where she either worked the line or baked desserts.

In her early twenties Zara moved to Sarasota, Florida with a friend. She stayed in Florida for 20 years. Her first job there was working at a gourmet take-out company,Harry’s Continental Kitchen in Longboat Key. They served salads, sandwiches and desserts.

She kept getting such great feedback over her desserts, so she decided to bake independently. She had 15 restaurant accounts all over town within 3 months. She remembers, “I had three ovens and three refrigerators in my house.”

One of her restaurant accounts in Florida moved to Connecticut, where many stars have second homes.  Her desserts were served to the likes of Meryl Streep, Sam Waterston, Tom Hanks, Conan O’Brien, Oliver Platt and Campbell Scott.

Conan O’Brien described Zara’s coconut cake as “the best thing I’ve ever had in my life!”  In fact, he would call before dinner to make sure the coconut cake would be served that evening.

Zara eventually opened her own bakery in 1993. It was called Just Desserts. The bakery and retail establishment was open for 5 years.  There, she remembers putting in 12 to 14 hours per day. But, it paid off.  Sarasota Magazine dubbed Zara, “Pie Queen,” and featured her in an issue.

When she was ready to leave Florida, she sold the bakery and moved to Boston. For three years she worked for Rosie’s Bakery, a well-known establishment in B-town. She also worked for a caterer and managed the bakery for Whole Foods.

A few years ago, Zara decided to be closer to her parents who retired to Lady’s Island about 20 years ago. It was already a second home. Dozens of couples moved here from the North Shore of Long Island from her parents’ generation. So she already knew quite a few folks when she moved here. One would be her future husband.

Mike Zara’s best friend growing up in Huntington and Susan’s best friend were brother and sister.  When she moved to Beaufort, Mike’s mother suggested to Susan’s mother that they reconnect.  And they did. Now, two years later, they are married.

Susan worked at the Firehouse for a year. After the café closed, Susan brought her baked goods around town to sell to local restaurants. People remembered her sweets, and asked for more.

Today, her desserts can be found at Wren, Plums, Saltus, Patois and City Java. The favorites? “Everyone seems to love the coconut cake, the apple cheese tart and my lemon bars,” she exclaims.

“I think people like my sweets because everything is made from scratch. I use pure ingredients, good butter and imported chocolates,” Zara explains. Her favorite is her bittersweet chocolate mousse.  “It’s not as sweet as grocery store desserts.”

SuZara’ s Kitchen opened prior to Christmas at 1103 Boundary Street in Newcastle Square. The pink cottage is an efficient, small space for the ultra-organized Zara.

She is at home with her new business, her new husband and her new life here in Beaufort. When she isn’t baking, she and her husband, Mike spend time at their second home on Huspah Creek in Sheldon. “It’s paradise,” she says with a comfortable smile!

Regarding her new endeavor, “I love what I do. I love to see the response on people’s faces. And it’s very easy for me. It just comes natural,” says the 37-year, self-taught veteran.

SuZara’s Kitchen is open Tuesday through Friday, 10am until 5pm and Saturdays, 9am until 2pm.   Her desserts are perfect for the occasional bridge game, a formal dinner party or as gifts. You’ll be glad you stopped by, guaranteed!

About Wendy

Wendy Pollitzer is a versatile writer living in the Lowcountry of South Carolina.

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