WEST – It doesn’t matter that Nana’s Bakery & Pizza is tucked away on a secluded stretch of High Street, across from a car park and sandwiched between Longo’s and the United Theatre.
Once word of Nana’s farm-to-table philosophy has spread – and the fresh food on offer at Westerly’s newest restaurant – health-conscious foodies with similar passions for consuming natural, delicious, organic foods will have no trouble finding the hidden gem to be found with the comforting name.
“Isn’t it a wonderful name?” asked Nana’s co-owner James Wayman one morning last week as he sat in the bright, airy restaurant with its wooden chairs and banquettes and marble-topped tables. “It’s heartwarming … people light up when they say it.”
Wayman, along with his business partners – Aaron Laipply, chef baker David Vacca and executive chef Corey Lein – opened Nana’s earlier this spring at 82 High St.
“We’re an all-day coffee shop,” Wayman said with a slight smile. “You can come in the morning for a coffee and donuts and come back later for a quality dinner and a glass of wine.”
The donuts, he said, are made from organic, freshly ground grains and deep-fried to order.
“You can pick them up hot,” he said, still smiling.
At Nana’s, he explained, all of the breads and baked goods — and the pizza dough — are baked fresh daily, after a long, slow, overnight cold fermentation process designed to develop flavor and enhance nutrition. The dough is naturally leavened from locally sourced and sustainably grown grains.
Opening a pizza restaurant in Westerly might seem a little redundant – especially with Longo’s next door – but pizzas at Nana’s are decidedly different. Not only because of the naturally leavened dough, but because of the creativity of the creations.
Nana’s pizzas, some of which are available by the piece, include the Rhode Island – topped with potatoes, fermented peppers, soup, oregano and lemon – and the Mushroom Marsala with Seacoast cremini mushrooms, fresh herbs, Marsala, koji cream and red Sendai miso.
“We focus on pizza, bread and a rotating menu,” he said. “Everything is locally sourced and comes directly from the people who grow, breed or catch it.
“If you see a vegetable here,” he said, waving at the clean, bright, open kitchen, “it’s from a local farm.”
Vegetable dishes at Nana’s include small plates like “Yellow Eye Bean Salad” — sourdough inflatido, guajill dressing, toasted almonds, roasted cabbage and herbs — and “Local Farm Vegetables” — roasted local farm vegetables with fermented honey glaze, pepita koji Crumble and cheese.
Breakfast includes things like “Nana’s Farm Egg Sandwich” – baked egg, slow-roasted bacon and toasted koji chilli lardo on an English muffin – “Mushroom & Egg Toast – whipped ricotta, Seacoast Farm mushrooms, lemon brown butter and crispy garlic – and Fried Dough. Nana’s also serves brunch on Sundays from 9am to 2pm
Wayman said the team is always changing things up and experimenting. There are always options for guests with food allergies, he said, noting that Vacca is working on a gluten-free bread recipe and Lein ensures there are always gluten-free items on Nana’s menu.
With his T-shirt, tousled hair, and unassuming manner, North Carolina native Wayman looked more like a farm boy than an award-winning businessman and restaurateur, who opened popular Mystic restaurant, Oyster Club, Engine Room, and restaurateur with former business partner Dan Meiser grass and bones.
In fact, Wayman, who lives in North Stonington with his wife Heather and their 9-month-old son Alder, grew up on his grandparents’ berry farm outside of Greensboro, North Carolina, where he says he was introduced to farm-to-table Life.
“I came to visit about 20 years ago,” said the 1996 Johnson & Wales graduate. “I’ve been here ever since.”
In 2020, Wayman and his Nana’s team opened the original Nana’s Bakery & Pizza in Mystic. A year later, it was named one of the “Best New Restaurants in America, 2021” by Esquire magazine.
Esquire editors called Wayman “one of the unsung pioneers of American cuisine” and said Nana’s donuts tasted “like melting clouds of cumulus” and described the New England pizza as “covered with clams and bacon, like clam chowder when it’s gone.” a few months in Italy and had an epiphany in Naples.”
Everything at Nana’s “elevates to a higher level thanks to deep fermentation and the careful hands of baker David Vacca and chef James Wayman,” the magazine added.
“The backbone of Nana’s is all about fermentation,” explained Wayman, founding partner and creative director of Moromi Shoyu, a small-batch fermentation company he founded with Bob Florence and Debbi Michiko Florence that uses traditional methods to make its koji, shoyu, and miso
Wayman said he and his team decided to open the Westerly branch after discussions with local philanthropist Chuck Royce and Royce’s son-in-law Dan King, who is the executive director of the Royce Family Fund. The Royce family owns the High Street building which houses Nana’s.
“It’s a wonderful partnership,” Wayman said, praising Royce and King and their contributions to Westerly.
“We couldn’t be happier to welcome James and his incredible team to our Westerly family,” said King. “I’ve been a fan of James and his food and ethos for years. He is curious about food and understands what food means to a community.”
“I like Westerly a lot,” Wayman said. “It feels like a real community… a community of families. It’s cool. Very cool.”
Nana’s interior design, which Wayman says has a sort of “Scandinavian” flair, was a collaboration with Nana’s team members, Mystic interior designer Kierstan Field and Western artist Sean Spellman.
“Sean did our branding, our signs and our menus,” Wayman said, pointing to one of Spellman’s artwork that hung on Nana’s walls.
“I’m glad to have my work in a place that I think is a catalyst for positive momentum in Westerly,” Spellman said in an email, “not just in the food scene, but the whole.” Community as a place that welcomes people of all ages/backgrounds and that also sets the bar for all local restaurants interested in preparing food with hyper-local, clean ingredients.
“Integrating local food systems and supporting independent regional farmers and artisans is the best thing a restaurant can do,” added Spellman, “aside from making great food in a welcoming space…all of which the team at Nana’s does well.”
“James and Aaron’s visual aesthetic, along with Kierstan’s interior design, just suited my work. I was thrilled to be a part of it.”
As with everything at Nana’s, the wine has been carefully selected. Nana’s offers a selection of organic and biodynamic wines, as well as Canyon Coffee’s organic coffee, leaf and floral teas, homemade chai latte, own fermented kombucha and cocktails.
“We have a small wine list that changes all the time,” Wayman said. “The same goes for our spirits.”
On his Moromi website, Wayman says with his “thoughtful approach to everyday eating,” his mission is to continue on the path of “making a lasting impact on the broader food system.”
Wayman, who was Executive Chef at Water Street Cafe and Executive Chef at The River Tavern in Chester, Connecticut prior to his partnership with Meiser, has been featured in The New York Times and Saveur Magazine and was named “Best Chef” by the Connecticut Restaurant Association , emphasizes the “team” at Nana and the contributions of everyone who works there, including that of Nana’s manager, Haley Griffith, and all of the waiters and chefs.
For 19-year-old Pawcatuck waitress Alana Hanka, working at Nana is “the best thing ever.”
“I know it’s about good food,” she said, “but these are good people, too. They really care about their employees. It’s great… Working here is more of a pastime than a job,” she said with a smile.
Nana’s Bakery & Pizza is open Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sundays from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Visit nanasri.com.