Jacob Gross was just 8 years old when Bess Eaton closed back in 2004. But he never forgot the double chocolate doughnut and the iced tea. In line for the opening, the resurrection of the beloved coffee and bake shop early Sunday morning, he hoped the double chocolate would be there.
At 7:30 a.m., having been open since 5, Robin Busch, one of the four new Bess Eaton partners—David Liguori, Don Hassel and Mary Duggan Haverly the other three—looked both exhausted and exhilarated.
“It’s really exciting,” Busch said, half listening to his headset and a reporter all the while a clamor surrounded; “I need a tank and a coffee roll,” a customer told worker Heather Burdick, who smiled even as she juggled.
A line of cars bound for the drive-thru was bottlenecked and the line inside the store was getting longer, nearly out the door. Ray Jones, a local pastor who “grew up on Bess Eaton,” said he didn’t mind the line: “I’m having a regular and a chocolate shot (doughnut) … if they have it, I hope.”
Busch, who was once a Bess Eaton manager at the old downtown Mystic store, was “disappointed” when the company went under in 2004, but being a long-time employee and knowing doughnuts pretty well, he signed on with Tim Hortons. It was a good company, he said, but it could never seem to get a true foothold in die-hard Bess territory. And while he’s confident about the resurgence of Bess Eaton—this one in Pawcatuck and two in Rhode Island; one in Westerly (set to open Monday) and one already open in Wakefield—especially due to the overwhelming excitement in the community, he’s a cautious businessman.
“Years ago this was the only show in town, not anymore, but people have always been loyal to this brand,” he said, as partner David Liguroi stacked doughnuts just baked at the Bake Fresh bakery housed in the old Bess Bakery on Tom Harvey Road, using all original doughnut recipes. “And original coffee and iced tea formulas, most important,” Liguori said, as he praised bakery owners Mike Torville and Josh Arnold.
Karen Malaghan “grew up” with Bess Eaton. She and her husband Terry were all smiles as they munched and sipped. “Happy … it’s all very good except now it’s back, my coffee bills are going to go up” because of her anticipated frequent stops.
In 1952, Angelo “Bangy” Gencarelli and his wife Burnie of Westerly opened their first shop, then called Southern Maid. Over the years they built the business so that by the late 1990’s nearly 50 Bess Eaton shops would be found in Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
In 2004, under the ownership and direction of son Louis A. Gencarelli the business went bankrupt. A high profile and international bidding war began with Wendy’s subsidiary Canada-based Tim Hortons beating out Dunkin’ Donuts and others to purchase the business for $41.6 million. But all the Tim Hortons shops closed in December leaving vacant doughnut shops across three states.