Bakeries and pastry shops are not exactly hard to find in our area. Stores all around Poughkeepsie provide residents with cakes, pastries, cookies, — you name it. One shop, however, stands separate from the rest.
Caffe Aurora, the only pastry shop in the area that still makes all of its products from scratch, has walls adorned with images from the 1940s when it first opened and tables covered with newspaper clippings featuring the shop.
Located on Mill Street, Caffe Aurora is a community staple to many families and older Italian residents.
The shop’s owner Lou Strippoli mentioned that on Sunday mornings, “old Italian men” occupy every table in the shop.
“People come here for the atmosphere, not necessarily because it’s a bakery,” says Strippoli. “It’s an old Italian tradition to kill time in a caffe and solve all of the world’s problems,” he says with a laugh.
What keeps these residents coming to the shop besides its authentic atmosphere, however, are the products.
The shop’s best-selling pastries include cannoli, a staple of Sicily, sfogliatelle, a product of Naples, and of course, taralli, which come from Puglia, the region Strippoli’s father Paolo, — the shop’s founder — is from.
Wedding cakes are also one of the shop’s biggest selling points, as they contribute largely to what keeps Caffe Aurora in business.
“We can make any kind of cake. We can do the things you see on television, but we make the cakes taste good. But that’s all thanks to Emily — she’s a phenomenal cake decorator,” Strippoli says as he gestures to a woman working behind the counter.
Emily Paonessa began her job at Caffe Aurora when she was just 15 years old. Back then, it was a part-time, after school gig that had her making coffee and serving pastries.
Today, Paonessa is responsible for creating many of the shop’s custom cakes and desserts.
“At some point many years ago, Lou said to me, ‘You know, you can do this,’” Paonessa reflects.
Strippoli taught her the skills she needed to decorate cakes professionally. She quickly learned the ropes and blew her mentor out of the water.
“I didn’t go to school to learn how to do this. I was artistic in high school, but that’s about it,” Paonessa explains. “I started by decorating Easter chocolate, and now when a customer shows me a picture of a cake they want, I can duplicate it.”
Paonessa and Strippoli work hard to keep the shop up and running with the changes that are constantly being made to businesses in the surrounding Little Italy. They are confident, though, that their authenticity, atmosphere, and desserts will keep Caffe Aurora around for the long haul.