For Keri Laman, when it came time to open her new cafe, it was all about the details, from menu design and kitchen arrangements to smoothie names and staff selection.
Opened on March 25 in the Manchester Millyard in the lower level of the Jefferson building, Bayona Cafe brings a funky concept to an old building, straddling the line of preserving history and bringing new life to an unused space.
“It’s all about it being part of who you are,” Laman said.
President/owner of the Tidewater Catering family, which includes Waterworks Cafe and Riverside Room located in the Waumbec Building, Laman believes the only way to take on the project of opening an eatery is to dedicate yourself to it.
“It’s a lifestyle choice and if I didn’t feel that I was meant to do this and that it didn’t tie into everything I am, I don’t think I could do it,” she said.
Tidewater Catering, a full-service company, began in 2003 and grew in 2005 to include contract food service accounts for Manchester Community College, DEKA Research and others. Looking for a way to expand the opportunity to highlight their culinary abilities, Waterworks Cafe opened in the Manchester Millyard in 2013, followed shortly after by Riverside Room in the space just next door.
A year later, Laman started the process of opening another cafe in the millyard, this time in the Jefferson building. Bayona Cafe is open from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday with the intent of serving a mix of business professionals, students and teachers a healthy, affordable and convenient breakfast, lunch or mid-afternoon snack.
“I purposely situated both Waterworks and Bayona in a way hoping to grasp the most amount of people who don’t feel that they have to walk eight blocks to get something to eat, don’t feel that they have to bring in their food every day ... but can come down for a quick breakfast and go back to their desk or go back to their classroom and feel that they ate something healthy and didn’t have to live off vending machines,” Laman said.
The menu at Bayona is extensive and eclectic, chosen based on Laman’s vision and suggestions from culinary director Johnny Wallace and his team. The goal was to make the food “funky, bold and a little bit more in-your-face,” she said.
The breakfast menu has omelets and egg scrambles, sandwiches and pancakes, and standouts like boozy peaches and cream crepes (bourbon marinated peaches and mascarpone whipped cream over pan griddle crepes topped with toasted pecans) and a falafel sandwich (fried eggs, falafel, tomato, avocado, sauteed spinach and tzatziki sauce on an English muffin).
Lunch has a selection of salads and soups, sandwiches and burgers, flatbreads, Bayona specialties like beer-battered fish tacos and flat iron steak baguette, and pasta bowls such as duck confit and mushroom ravioli, seafood linguini and spicy Italian sausage.
“Bayona is really a sister of Waterworks, although, as I laughingly say, not a twin,” Laman said. “We really wanted to do something here that was a little more unique, a little more special for the Jefferson Mill and the tenants here because they are different than the Waumbec.”
With a second cafe located in the millyard, it’s clear that Laman has an affinity for the area. Growing up in New Jersey, she spent a lot of time visiting job sites with her father, who was a New York City iron worker.
“He taught me a lot about being around places like this and looking at something that can look old and seeing the potential in it,” she said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for ... the sacrifices my parents made. My father in particular has made tremendous sacrifices.”
Laman’s mother passed away when she was in high school and her younger siblings were 15 and 7.
“And he made great sacrifices for me to have wings,” she said. “He put all three of us through college, being a union ironworker. [He’s] an amazing man.”
When she moved to New Hampshire in 1997, the mill area was vacant, and she was inspired to help repurpose the space while also keeping its integrity. But turning the original space into Bayona Cafe wasn’t without its challenges. Running right through the middle of the windowless dining room and into the kitchen of Bayona are 4-foot by 4-foot granite and brick pillars that hold the building up.
The trick Laman saw was not eliminating the pillars (which wasn’t an option anyway for the structure of the building), but keeping them true to the original building while also making the area beautiful.
Laman and her team did that with lighting, colors and interior spacing, plus large windows facing the hallway and dark woods for the flooring.
“I want people to feel it’s very open; it’s why I added the windows, it’s why the door’s open,” she said.
As for the granite pillars, other than cleaning and varnishing them, they remain the same as when they were first constructed and are now the roots of both the building and Bayona Cafe.
As seen in the April 23, 2015 issue of the Hippo.