Walking into Caffè Aurora is like stepping into a sugar-spun daydream. From outside the door, the scents of powdered sugar and fresh espresso swirl through the air, creating an intoxicating perfume that lures commuters up from the Poughkeepsie train station and away from Main Street.
Inside, the shop is exactly the sort of old-world Italian café of your childhood. It’s a place where countertops stack piles of flaky sflogliatelle and crunchy cannoli, where Italian ices tempt young visitors, and where struffoli appear in sky-high stacks at Christmastime. In short, it’s paradise on Mill Street.
And it might be closing.
Or it might not be. It all depends on which offers come through, Lou Strippoli explains. The café’s owner, Strippoli took over the shop from his father, Paolo, who opened it in 1941, a mere three days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Between the two of them, they’ve been in business in Poughkeepsie for nearly 80 years and have churned out some of the most delectable cakes and pastries the Hudson Valley has ever tasted.
But Strippoli is ready to retire now. After making the business his life – and logging the hours to prove it – he wants to ease out of it and embrace the snowbird lifestyle.
“I want to spend a little bit of time with my wife,” he says, adding that, although he hopes to relocate south for the winter, he loves the Hudson Valley too much to ever leave it for good. He’s enjoyed his years in Poughkeepsie, his early mornings in the kitchen, and his moments of conversation with locals. Yet he’s also highly aware of how much time he’s given to the café. Now, he wants that time back for himself.
To get the ball rolling, Strippoli put up a sign, and a very large one at that. Dangling prominently in front of the café’s pastry-lined windows, it declares that Caffè Aurora is for sale or lease and that interested individuals can call for more information.
The sign has only been up for a few days, but Strippoli has already received a number of calls.
“It’s nice to see that we’ve affected so many people,” he observes. That being said, he’s in no rush to let his namesake go. He wants to make sure Caffè Aurora passes into good hands and is willing to take the time to speak with prospective buyers to learn about their plans for the space. Ideally, he’d like to pass along the business and the building, although he’d be flexible for the right person.
“I’m not selling for the sake of selling,” he stresses, noting that whoever takes over the café should be willing and able to contribute to the revitalization of Poughkeepsie. “I see the City of Poughkeepsie trending in a very good way. I want to be part of the solution.”
To that end, Strippoli is happy to stick around and train someone who is new to the Hudson Valley or the restaurant industry. Perhaps more significantly, he’s also open to passing along his recipes as well.
“I am definitely passing [the recipes] along,” he enthuses. “The older generation brought their secrets and their recipes to the grave. If you do that, you’ve lost something.”
If that doesn’t bring a sigh of relief to the café’s frequenters, then this will. Not only is Strippoli happy to share his secrets to crafting the crispest cannoli shell, the flakiest sfogliatelle, and the crunchiest pignoli, but he’s also ready to reveal exactly how he makes Caffè Aurora’s signature Italian-style rum cake. The café has not changed the recipe since day one, although it has made one very special tweak.
It makes its own rum.
Yes, you read that correctly. Caffè Aurora has an industrial liquor permit that enables it to make rum inhouse to use for the cake. In other words, you’re probably going to want to order one ASAP.
Another on the list of the Poughkeepsie hotspot’s must-try treats are the sfogliatelle, the flaky pastries made of paper-thin layers and stuffed with sweet ricotta cream. Because the sweets are so demanding and time-intensive to prepare, shops often outsource them for convenience’s sake. Yet for Strippoli, they’re a point of pride and tradition.
“At one point we would have classes from the Culinary [Institute of America] come to watch to see how they’re made,” he reveals.
Strippoli hopes to be able to step away from Caffè Aurora within a year’s time, although he’ll stick around a bit longer to mentor a protegee. As long as he’s able to see his home away from home find a way to live on and remain true to its roots, he’ll be happy.
“I put in more time to this business than my dad did,” he says. “I want to take some time [for me] while I can.”
185 Mill St, Poughkeepsie