"It’s like a small town right here on this corner," said Andrew Beyea, who has varying job roles at Norma’s, located at 59-02 Catalpa Avenue. "In New York, communities tend to sprout up around institutions, and Norma's has become an institution in this neighborhood.”
Norma’s opened on June 8, 2012, and within nine months has become an oasis to study, do work or chat with friends and sociable strangers.
At any given time, Beyea can be seen conversing with customers, cracking jokes or explaining the contents of the displayed goods.
Norma’s is co-owned by Crystal River Williams and Denise Plowman, who met during their time working in the bakery department of a Whole Foods.
Both California natives, Williams and Plowman’s experience stems, respectively, from studying pastry arts at the French Culinary Institute and graduating from the California-based Professional Culinary Institute.
Norma’s is named after William’s grandmother who loved to bake.
“She understood what the priorities in life should be — family, friends and your community — and she didn't feel like she had to pretend to be something or work towards something other than being a good person, mother and grandmother,” Williams said.
The hummingbird logo is Plowman’s creation, which reflects her love for the bird and which she painted on the windows. She also created three large hummingbird collages that are framed and hanging inside on the yellow walls.
Their small kitchen is another outlet for their creativity as Williams, Plowman, Beyea and part-time baker Katherine Wilhelmi experiment with recipes.
The Mango Bundt Cake ($3) is a three-inch orange-colored cake with a light mango flavor. It's bright red raspberry, blackberry frosting is colored naturally by the berries and has a contrasting burst of flavors.
Williams believes the dessert is exemplary of their philosophy as bakers.
"It's to take something that's really familiar and put something together that isn't completely off the wall, but you might not had before," she said.
The Garden Cake ($3) has carrots, zucchini, and beets has a sweet carrot cake-tasting flavor topped with pecans on top adding a nutty kick.
The Banana Blast ($1.75) is a vegan and wheat-free cupcake created by Williams and her father to cater to the vegan diets of her small sons, Roque and Angel.
Made with double chocolate that overpowers the banana flavor, the Banana Blast was coined by Angel himself.
They also have a selection of savory goods that include a rotating menu of paninis ($5.50) and soups ($4.50), quiches ($3.50), four flavors of biscuits ($1.50) and more.
Their ham and bacon comes from Morscher's Pork Store, located at 58-44 Catalpa Avenue, and their single-origin Brazilian coffee comes from the Brooklyn coffee-roasting company, Kitten Coffee.
Norma’s supports local entrepreneurs by using their space to display and help sell the work of Ridgewood artists.
This includes jewelry from Stock Frock And Barrel, handbags from Iris Sophie Designs, greeting cards from Amy Gallop Designs and The Gilbert William's Gallery (Williams's visionary artist father), paintings by Sara Schraeter and books from poet Luke Armstrong Maguire.
“We're part of the community,” said Plowman. “We’re not just here to take your money and give you your coffee. We want to support our customers and be involved with them.”
So far, customers seem pleased with all aspects of Norma’s.
"Even though sometimes some of their stuff might even cost a buck more, it's like a 1,000 times better," said Dave Frye, comparing Norma’s to other neighborhood bakeries. He noted the real frosting of the cupcakes, his favorite, and the high quality of the goods.
"It's kind of a hot spot in the neighborhood," said Louis Doulas, a freelance writer and designer who loves the Pumpkin Spice Bundt Cake and endearingly calls Norma's his office. "It's got a very cozy, warm and nurturing ambiance."
Kim Look, whose usual includes the Garden Cake and a tea, appreciates Norma’s affordability and tailored service.
"They pay attention to the details, like asking you if you want room for milk or explaining what the pastries are,” she said.
Consensus is that they all notice and appreciate how community-driven Norma’s has become.
"Generally, most people are not looking to start a conversation, but here at Norma’s a lot of the people talk about anything and everything,” said Look. “It’s kind of cool that you get that diversity of people coming in.”
"We see a lot of the same people over and over again and we know a lot about them and about their lives,” said Williams. “And I think that's what makes us so emotionally attached to being here."