‘Make your customers happy’: Norwalk’s long-running eateries share secret to success

NORWALK — The pandemic has presented small businesses their greatest challenge in recent memory. The city’s longest-running establishments have survived by keeping their standards high.

“If we start skimping, cutting corners, that’s when you lose business,” Angela Agoglia-Ferreria, who owns Angela Mia Italian Bakery on Connecticut Avenue with her father Joe Agoglia. “It’s about keeping the quality of our product high.”

The bakery continues to buy the all-natural products that it’s used for over 50 years, many of which has doubled or even tripled in price. Agoglia-Ferreria doesn’t expect to break even this year due to the increased costs even while bumping the price of their goodies.

“We can only charge so much,” she said. “People are understanding. They see’s what’s going on. They’ve already seen it at the grocery store.”

Business was looking up until a few weeks ago when the newest variant of COVID-19, omicron, came surging through the state. Customers started cutting down or canceling their big orders after paring down their holiday celebrations.

East Avenue Pizza is feeling the pressure with a shortage of staff. The East Norwalk pizzeria, which has been in business since the mid-1970s, hasn’t reopened for dine-in service since the pandemic shut things down in March 2020. Plus, everything has gotten more expensive, according to owner Leo Stefanatos.

The shop shortened its hours, closing now at 9 p.m. instead of 11 p.m. The family-owned business also tries to keep its costs low by keeping the family working in the store as much as possible.

“It’s kind of tough. We’re still short-handed,” Stefanatos said. “We do work a lot of hours.”

Through it all, both the pizzeria and the bakery have worked to produce a quality product that keeps customers coming back year after year. East Avenue makes everything fresh every day, using the same family recipes that have kept customers returning for decades.

“Make your customers happy,” Stefanatos said. “Word of mouth, it gets out there. We get more customers by voice of my existing customers, not from advertising.”

Agoglia-Ferreria attributes the bakery’s success to changing with the times. Angela Mia now sells the popular fondant cakes and found success with its chocolate mousse cheesecake, which led to many bakeries taking the idea, according to Agoglia-Ferreria.

“Our cannoli nachos are very big,” she said.

For business owners just starting out who dream of their business also running for decades, Stefanatos says “work ethic has to be No. 1. You have to put your time in and your heart and soul. Whatever the product is you put out there, it has to be satisfactory to the customers.”