Hudson natives Cory Boutin and Emily Erickson opened Benson's Bakery & Cafe in Hudson on Jan. 27. The two Alvirne High School graduates both spent many years working in the food service industry before opening their new cafe, which features a variety of baked goods as well as breakfast, lunch and coffee beverages. (APRIL GUILMET PHOTO)
HUDSON — Hudson natives Cory Boutin and Emily Erickson never visited Benson's Wild Animal Farm. The famous New Hampshire zoo and amusement park closed its doors for good before they were born.
But both of them grew up hearing stories about the park's colorful history.
"It was Benson's that really put Hudson on the map," Erickson said.
She and Erickson said the decision to name their business in honor of the former zoo and modern-day public park was kind of a no-brainer.
Located in view of the park's former Route 111 main entrance, not far from where an enormous statue of Mighty Mouse once stood, Benson's Bakery & Café offers a full array of sweet treats in a festive yet cozy environment.
Teal-colored walls provide a whimsical backdrop to framed, yellowed photographs of Queenie the elephant and other former, four-legged park residents, while a red-and-white striped popcorn machine gives another nod to the site's history, as do the cookies and cupcakes decorated with giraffes and peacocks.
Boutin, who said both his maternal and paternal grandmothers worked at the zoo when they were younger, said searching for Benson's Park memorabilia on eBay has been a fun part of the process.
"We'll just keep adding more," he said with a grin.
After graduating from Alvirne High School (Erickson in 2006 and Boutin in 2007), each embarked on respective careers in the food service industry.
Erickson began working in bakeries at age 18, working her way up from counter assistant to assistant baker to baking manager of various local bakeries. She earned her degree in baking and pastry arts at the Culinary Institute of America in 2009.
Boutin's career path began even earlier, having started working in restaurants at age 15. Last year he purchased the former Hudson Pizza Man restaurant on River Road with fellow Alvirne graduate Michael Coulter, and since then the newly named Mike's Pie has been the site of several local Chamber of Commerce events.
With no bakeries or sit-down coffee cafes within town limits, the pair saw much potential in a vacant restaurant building at 203 Central St.
"Hudson already has a diner. It already has restaurants," Erickson said. "But there's really no place to sit down in a comfy seat with your laptop and have a cup of coffee and a cupcake."
Two months ago, Erickson and Boutin signed their lease and began converting the space, which has most recently housed a short-lived French and Turkish restaurant, into the café of their dreams.
Friends and relatives have all pitched in to help the young couple get ready for opening day, though the plan is to eventually hire a handful of permanent employees.
Erickson said she plans to work at the bakery full-time, while Boutin plans on spending his mornings there, heading across town to work at his pizza parlor in the evenings. The eventual plan is to also offer catering.
"It's going to be many long hours ahead, but it's all worth it," he said.
Benson's Bakery & Café features a wide variety of bakery items, including special-occasion cakes, pies, cheesecakes, cupcakes, cookies and brownies, with several vegan and gluten-free offerings.
Breakfast and lunch is served daily, with sandwiches made on bread from Nashua's Great Harvest and bagels made at Nashua's Bagel Alley.
Using locally-sourced products is a huge priority said Erickson, who uses coffee blends from Conway's Good Vibes Coffee Roasters to brew all the cafe's beverages.
Once the weather gets a bit warmer, locals heading over to Benson Park (which was made into a public park, featuring a dog run, walking trails and a playground, about five years ago) can call ahead to order a picnic lunch to bring with them.
Benson's Bakery & Café is open Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.