Connecticut Muffin has loyal following in town
Published 1:01 am, Thursday, April 1, 2010
In 1991, while some Americans slept soundly knowing that the recently invented automobile airbag would keep their kids safe on the way home from the prom, others tossed and turned, fretting about the troubling events in the Middle East. But for those who wished to turn their minds off altogether there were options, including the hit movie "Thelma and Louise" or the TV sitcom "Murphy Brown."
While all this was going on, Connecticut Muffin opened its doors for the first time and let the enticing aromas of its goodies waft out onto Main Street in New Canaan.
Get within a few yards of the charming little storefront and, if the breeze is blowing the right way, you'll have an idea of how Ulysses felt when he heard the siren's call -- mixed metaphors and all. It's quite irresistible.
Inside the warmly lit café, the rhythm of the comings and goings of customers sets the tempo. Glass cases filled with fresh baked goods overflow with decadent choices while colorful tea boxes and gleaming espresso machines sparkle in the light from the front window.
Les and Jowita Burdzicki came to the muffin business in New Canaan from points far to the east. Poland, to be precise. Arriving in New York separately, they met as college students. Jowita, the daughter of a journalist father and an economist mother, earned a degree in the study of psychometrics. In the wild chance that you don't know what, exactly, that is, it's the branch of psychology that deals with the design and interpretation of quantitative tests for the measurement of psychological variables. A skill set that would later come in handy when she wanted to assign an exact number to, say, how emotional somebody got about a corn muffin.
When the economy tanked in the city, Jowita and Les, who was managing several facilities at Columbia University at the time, decided they'd like to do something together and Connecticut looked pretty good to them. So, with the help of a business broker, they found a little muffin shop that was coming up for sale. They liked the lady who had owned it for nine years, since 1991, they liked the all-natural product with no preservatives, and they liked New Canaan. Done deal.
Today, Connecticut Muffin is open seven days a week, usually at five in the morning, to accommodate its many commuting customers. The moment the couple starts talking about their highly valued patrons, it's immediately apparent why the little shop does better than the sum of its muffins.
"When we see them coming across the street, we get their order ready and it's waiting for them on the counter," Les said. When's the last time that happened to you at Starbucks?
When asked about memorable customers over the years, the couple mentions the usual suspects like Paul Newman and Martha Stewart, but is reluctant to tamper with the privacy of current patrons. "We have plenty of multi-millionaires who just want to be left alone to enjoy their coffee. They want to be treated like regular Joes."
The couple has also learned that no one takes their coffee the same.
"Let me tell you," Les said, "it can go from one drop of milk, to several different versions of a little milk, to a lot of milk and everything in between. But it's not like New York. In the city, a regular coffee is milk and two sugars. Not here."
The Burdzickis have an attractively low-key and modest attitude about the success of their business. But there have been moments when the shop was thrust into the spotlight somewhat involuntarily. There was the award for best muffin in the state by Connecticut Magazine and a glowing review of their muffins by New York Times restaurant critic Patricia Brooks. That caused a run on the place that lasted for weeks. Such is the price of fame.
After long hours in enthusiastic service to their customers, the Burdzickis like to relax at home with a nice frosty bottle of Zywiec beer, a fine Polish brew. On the topic of relaxation Jowita mentions casually that she and Les are a big fans of both Led Zepplin and, amusingly, the band of a certain Prince of Darkness named Ozzy. Let's figure out the psychometrics on that.