Marie Onyeani (center) celebrates the Cafe Du Pain grand opening with Lawrence Township Mayor Chris Bobbitt (right).

When Cafe Du Pain opened its doors last year, it was what felt like the lone new business in a sea of Lawrence Shopping Center closures.

Now, as the Lawrence Township mainstay continues to make capital improvements and aims to actively draw in new tenants, the bakery has grown into a local favorite.

“That is our goal. If you look around, our aspiration is to provide quality baked goods to the community, but it’s also kind of rebuilding the business community here and creating some new jobs,” said investor and adviser Judith Registre. “We see this space as a place that will support the management of the center and bring it to life.”

Head baker and managing director Marie Onyeani said the timing was “perfect.”

“As we were visiting locations with our contractor, we noticed the Lawrence Shopping Center was under new management, and we reached out,” she said. “Amazingly, our business was the kind of business he was looking for to revitalize the shopping center.”

The bakery specializes in a diverse menu of items, like croissants, Haitian Kreyol patties, artisan breads, sandwiches and an array of sweets. Onyeani draws her inspiration from French, Caribbean, American and other traditions.

The globally-inspired menu is a way to connect customers with the world around them through specialty coffee and baked goods, said Onyeani’s business partner Judith Registre. And she feels a culturally diverse community like Lawrence is the perfect place to make that happen.

“That is the concept of our brand; we seek to take people on a journey through our baked goods and coffee, whether that be in the spice or the baked products itself,” Onyeani said.

Onyeani has been a baker for as long as she can remember, she said. But for a long time, it was just a hobby — it wasn’t something she imagined a career in. She foresaw something more clear-cut, like a job in the education, medical or law fields. After graduating from Trenton High School, she went to Rider University and earned a teaching degree.

Still, though, baking was a constant presence in her life. She has worked and studied as a baker in various capacities since 1997, so in 2013, she decided to make a change.

“While being a teacher was important to me and still is, the reality throughout my life is that I was either baking or working at a bakery or studying baking,” she said.

Onyeani and Registre started scouting location, first in Hamilton and then in other parts of Mercer County. After two years, they decided on Lawrence.

“Lawrence is the perfect center in Mercer County for a bakery like ours — other bakeries in the area demonstrate that,” Onyeani said. “The location is a perfect bridge between Trenton and Princeton, and the shopping center makes it an accessible and convenient location for the Lawrence community itself, the surrounding areas, and for commuters.”

New this spring are seasonal classes, like a Mother’s Day cupcake bouquet decorating course and summer baking sessions for children and teens. These classes are a way for Onyeani to combine two of her passions: baking and educating.

“We have a lot of plans that we are working on for 2019 to create a space for people to go on a journey through baked goods to learn, enjoy and experience the world,” Onyeani said. “I want the bakery to be a charming place that delights people and that people are delighted by, a place that takes them on a delightful journey through our baked goods, the environment and service.”