When it comes to the concept of giving the customers what they want, Leisha Young takes it to an almost magical extreme for the patrons of her Bridgeport eatery Leisha’s Bakeria.
“We’ve had customers come in and say, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s International Food Day at my kid’s school and we forgot to make something,’ ” she recalled. “They’d say, ‘We have Ghana or Argentina or some country.’ And I say, ‘That’s OK, and we’ll make something for someone.’ Or, someone will say, ‘Hey, I see you have biscuits — can you make gravy?’ And I’m like, ‘Sure give me 15 minutes.’ ”
Young’s business — which celebrates its fifth anniversary this May — was based on her ability to respond quickly to customer requests and expectations.
“I wanted to do a cute little breakfast spot,” she said about her establishment, located at 7 Lafayette Circle in Bridgeport’s business district. “It evolved into what it is today because of the needs of the block and the people downtown — they wanted something a little fast. People were asking, ‘Can you do this? Can you do that?’ I started off with quiche — I never did bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwiches. But these workers out there were asking, ‘Where’s my bacon-egg-and-cheese?’ And I was like, ‘Don’t you worry.’ And the menu kind of expanded.”
Leisha’s Bakeria caters to the weekday breakfast and lunch crowd, starting at 7 a.m. and staying open until 5 p.m. to accommodate what Young described as the post-lunch people “who need a little pick me up — they’ll do coffee and cookies for a sugar rush.”
All of the items on the Leisha’s Bakeria menu are made from scratch, with Young personally shopping for the freshest ingredients.
“I will go to a farmers’ market when I can,” she added. “I don’t have anything delivered to me.”
Young’s passion for cooking can be traced back to childhood hours spent with her parents in her family’s kitchen, coupled with her lifelong interest in entertaining. Her initial career path was in clothing retail, but after being laid off from a job she returned to college for business classes.
“And every night on my way home from classes I would pass by this corner,” she stated. “And I used to eat at the place that was here before me, a cheese shop called Melt Café. Then I saw the sign go up that the space was available. And I was like, ‘Hmmm? I need to go look at this place.’ And I did, and I kind of fell in love with it.”
Young’s baking became popular with her customers — it is difficult to view her red velvet cupcakes without wondering if gluttony is really such an onerous sin — and she noted that her blueberry muffins sell out every day. She also takes chances by experimenting with distinctive recipes that have become the new favorite comfort foods of her clientele.
“Hash brown waffles are really fun,” she exclaimed. “It’s a nice gluten-free option and something most people don’t do. You shred up potatoes, season them and throw them in a waffle iron. It’s like a giant latke and a lot of fun to eat.”
But Young also has a few experiments that didn’t receive the praise she expected. “We used to make bacon and cheese poppers,” she said. “But because we would do it from scratch, they would take 10 minutes to make. But people didn’t want to wait, and if you kept them in the warmer they would get hard. We also did a sweet potato and ham sandwich — garlic sweet potato, mashed on multigrain bread — and that also wasn’t as popular as I hoped.”
Leisha’s Bakeria had initially operated on Saturdays, but minimal pedestrian traffic in Bridgeport’s downtown during that day made it impractical to keep retail hours. However, Young adjusted her schedule to use her Saturdays for catering and special events.
Young has used social media marketing to promote her business, and she has also opened the venue for performance and business presentations. Leisha’s Bakeria has hosted networking events and a stand-up comedy showcase coordinated by Connecticut comedian Lynn Mosher, while a book signing and a cosmetic product launch are on the calendar for the near future.
“It is a way to get our name out there while helping other people who are up and coming,” Young said.
Looking back on her five-year journey in business, Young stated that her greatest challenge did not involve her menu, but instead involved “finding the right people who have the passion for good food, quality and, certainly, customer service. I want everybody who walks in here to smile, be happy and be comfortable.”
As for her fifth anniversary, Young is not planning an extravagant gala.
“I’m a pretty quiet kind of celebratory type of person,” she said, smiling modestly. “On my website or on social media, I’ll probably put, ‘Thanks for letting us bake your smiles for five years.’ ”