By Will Grunewald
From our May 2023 issue
Anna Sysko and Nicole Pellerin figured the run on baked goods and other breakfast and lunch offerings at Gemini Cafe and Bakery would ease up once initial curiosity in their new Bethel shop subsided. Instead, after they opened, at the tail end of last year, lines kept running out the door for months. Sysko and Pellerin were still doing about double the business they expected, and they brought on more staff and increased production in order to keep up.
One of the shop’s chief draws, of course, is the food and drink. The pastry case features an array of croissants, cupcakes, and scones. Bagels can be schmeared with house-made cream cheeses, like cranberry, maple walnut, or smoky jalapeño. A cheddar–black-pepper bagel or a jalapeño-bacon biscuit makes an excellent base for an egg sandwich. Focaccia toppings rotate — butternut squash and ricotta or maybe pepperoni, spinach, and pepperoncini. Soups, served in bowls by local potter Woody Hughes, might include borscht or split pea. The espresso is roasted by Greenwood Bean, one town over, and the chai is brewed in-house.
The other big draw comes on the house — the opportunity to linger in a casual, chatty setting during the day. Residents had been missing that ever since DiCocoa’s café closed, in 2021, after 26 years in business. No equivalent existed for the community. “A town needs a meeting space — sort of low-consequence, where you don’t feel like you’re investing a ton of money in a meal,” Sysko says. “It’s important to have that daily ritual of coming in, getting a coffee, running into people.”
Sysko had worked at DiCocoa’s on and off since its inception, when she was a teenager. “I kind of grew up there,” she says. Pellerin worked with her for 12 years. By the time DiCocoa’s closed, the two of them had been running the day-to-day as comanagers, and they immediately started hatching plans for their own business. They picked the name because they felt as bonded to each other as the Gemini twins of Greek mythology — and because it had the right ring to it, in a town that already had the Maine Mineral & Gem Museum and the Gem Theater. They picked a space on Main Street, in the former Key Bank branch, and set about overhauling it, building out the open kitchen where they make everything from scratch. The vault, though, was nearly indestructible, so they just turned it into their walk-in cooler.
It was a long project. “All we’d hear from everyone in town was, ‘When are you going to open? We need a spot,’” Sysko says. Now that they’re open, they’re doing all they can to keep pace with customers. All in all, they don’t mind feeling maxed out. “Really, it’s been great,” Sysko says. “It’s so nice to make food, then see it all go away by the end of the day.”