Wild in the Treats opening in Atlantic Highlands

Molasses cookies topped with crystallized sugar and decadent fruit tarts dripping with amaretto pastry cream are just a couple of the confections to discover at Wild in the Treats bakery in Atlantic Highlands. And they’re all vegan.

If you’re not, don’t let that scare you away because if no one told this nonvegan reporter, I wouldn’t have known the difference.

Tony Panzica has been a vegan for more than three decades and has worked in the food service industry for two, perfecting his craft, and mastering both vegan and non-vegan recipes. This is the first business he’s owned.

“I finally had the opportunity to do something for myself,” said Panzica, who has worked for more than 20 years as a baker, chef and manager at health food stores, such as Healthfair Natural Food Market in Little Silver, Dean’s Market (now operating as Green’s Natural Foods) in Ocean Township and Shrewsbury, and Nature’s Corner Natural Market in West Long Branch and Spring Lake (now closed).

While he was grateful for the experience, from manning juice bars to supervising, and cooking non-vegan meals to pushing out 80 pies a night during the holidays, he wanted more creative freedom.

Tony Panzica, owner of Wild In The Treats vegan bakery in Atlantic Highlands.

“Very little of the things I made were from my own recipes, I was just provided with them,” he said, including meals that weren’t vegan. But after leaving Nature’s Corner last year, he realized he missed baking and wanted to experiment in it again.

“It was time to start my own place,” he said. “I wanted to do something I really believe in, something I care about, somewhere I call the shots.”

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