You may have seen Linda Rotante's friendly face while picking up some paint at the Newtown Color Center. But this Newtown mother of two mixes up more than just colors during the week. In addition to working at the paint store once a week, Rotante, 41, has two other jobs. She is the resident baker at the Blue Z Coffeehouse and the creator of a popular healthy snack called the R-Bar.
The Blue Z
When Rotante first started at the Blue Z in January, the kitchen had a sink, refrigerator and counter. And no oven. The previous baker supplied the coffee shop with goods that were baked off-site. After being hired, Rotante reconfigured the small space and personally invested in a commercial range and hood. The small but functional space is immaculate, boasting shelves and racks stacked with baking pans, trays and dishes.
On a typical morning last week, I found Rotante in the kitchen cutting into her homemade S'more Brownies ($2).
"I don't use boxed mixes. I just don't like the taste," she says.
The brownies, one of the shop's best sellers, have a graham cracker crust, covered with brownie batter and topped with melted marshmallows. Another fresh offering was the Banana Coffee Toffee Muffins ($2.50). I sampled the Bacon, Egg and Cheese Pie ($3), a quick breakfast made from pizza dough layered with mozzarella cheese, scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese and bacon.
In addition to the baked goods and some wrap sandwiches, Rotante is toying with the idea of offering healthy fruit smoothies, a drink that some of her R-Bar customers might enjoy.
"Honey, could you whip up an energy bar that has no additives, chemicals or preservatives and is easy to eat while I'm running marathons?" Although these probably were not Jerry Rotante's exact words, this is what he asked of his wife. And the R-Bar is her answer.
In 2008, after experimenting with various ingredients and recipes, Linda Rotante came up with a snack that had the right kind of healthy ingredients that her athletic husband was seeking. The name came from a combination of their last name and the "right" ingredients. Rotante makes between 500 and 600 bars per week. She uses the space at Andrea's Bakery, which has more workspace than the Blue Z. Her Web site lists all six varieties, including gluten-free and soy choices; however, her regular customers typically request three flavors: Original, Chocolate Peanut Butter Crumble and Coconutty ($2.50 each).
In addition to customers in Danbury, New Fairfield and Ridgefield, SportsPlex in Bethel has been selling Rotante's R-Bar for approximately a year. And during that time, the R-Bar has gained some loyal fans.
"We sell about 50-60 per month," said Patrick Inness, who works the front desk at the fitness club.
Darren Cain, a Top Trainer, and Kimmie Rodrigues, the Fitness Director, both recommend the bars to their clients. Cain has seen people buy the bars on their way in to work out, then again when they leave. Rodrigues explained that what makes the bars unique is that the ingredients include natural, whole foods. She has encouraged Rotante to go the next step to get her bars noticed.
And what better way to get discovered than on Rachael Ray's show. More than a year ago, Rotante sent an email to the celebrity chef suggesting her R-Bar as a Snack of the Day. On the television show, Ray highlights one snack for each episode. In addition to airtime on Ray's show, the chosen snack is given to each member of the audience. In January, Rotante got an email saying that her bar is being considered. But she will have to await to find out the final decision, which may take several months.