Friday, August 29, 2014

Trials give way to sweet miracle

For owner Linda Conley, Sweet Stella Bakery is a miracle. On Aug. 7, just one week before her dream bakery was to open, Conley collapsed in her living room with a massive heart attack. Soon, she was undergoing open-heart surgery in Lynchburg General Hospital. Conley, however, would not give up. She survived the procedure and Sweet Stella Bakery opened Sept. 10.

Sugar high — Sweet Stella’s offers visitors a variety of delicious fresh baked goods including generously frosted cupcakes, a variety of muffins and their speciality doughnuts. The newly opened bakery also serves coffee. Photo credit: Candace Gladfelter

“God must have a plan for me. He is keeping me alive for a purpose. Maybe He didn’t need a piano-playing baker yet,” Conley said.

Sweet Stella is true to its name. Located on the corner of Timberlake and Leesville Road, the bakery is pleasantly situated under a black and white stripped awning. Customers come there to gratify their sweet tooth.

Employees cheerfully greet newcomers with a pleasant, “What can I get you?” For the customer, though, the choices are overwhelming. Behind the counter, arranged on shelves, sits a variety of doughnuts and to the right, bagels and muffins. Within the glass-enclosed cases are cookies, cakes and cupcakes covered with decorative icing. A full list of food items and prices are listed on a colorful chalkboard above the displays. Sweet Stella also sells brioche, cannolis and long johns.

“It looks delicious and mouth-watering,” Tatiana Diaz, a Lynchburg newcomer, said.

This is Conley’s first bakery, but she admits to being a bit of an entrepreneur. In 1991, she started the theater Cherry Tree Players and served as the Artistic Director. Five years ago, however, she wanted to get back to her first love – baking.

“This has kind of been a dream. I grew up baking with my grandmother. There are pictures of me baking at 4,” Conley said.

For her dream to come true, she knew she had to go to culinary school. After attending the Culinary Institute of America, she became the pastry chef at Boonsboro Country Club. When space became available for Sweet Stella, she decided to take the next step toward her dream and purchased the property.

Conley does not take the credit for the bakery, but passes it on to her staff. As a result of her heart surgery and recent hospitalization because of infection, she had to rely on her capable and energetic staff to get the business going.

“If I didn’t have this amazing staff, I would never be able to do this,” Conley said.

In particular, she is grateful for her daughter, Rachel Conley. Because of Linda’s hospitalization, it was up to Rachel to figure out the scheduling and finances for the bakery. In Conley’s words, she is a hero.

The bakery is named after Conley’s youngest granddaughter. During the bakery’s planning stage, Conley’s daughter was pregnant. At the time, “sweet” seemed the perfect adjective for soon-to-be-born Stella and the perfect name for the bakery.

The Sweet Stella kitchen staff is very talented. There are three different bakers with specialties in bread, doughnuts and cake. All are from the local area. The kitchen “doughnut genius,” as Conley calls him, is from a local bakery that recently closed.

“These are the best doughnuts you will find,” Conley said.

Presently, Sweet Stella only accepts cash. Visit Sweet Stella Bakery at 7106 Timberlake Road or visit www.sweetstella.com for more information.

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