Back in the late 90s, which seems like forever ago, I made pizzelles for clients of my marketing & advertising agency. One of my clients and also a good friend, Ellen, said “You really need to go into business with these cookies.” I was flattered but didn’t really consider it until my mom, Lucy, 76 at the time, said to me “I wish I could do something with my time…make a little money.” This is when the wheels starting churning. The conversation went something like this:
Denise: You should do pre-made food for busy professionals to pick up and cook at home.
Lucy: I’ve cooked my whole life and for everyone – I’m not cooking another thing.
On another occasion….
Denise: Maybe you could do a small daycare and watch kids “after” the typical close times for busy professionals who work late.
Lucy: I’ve been watching everyone’s kids for 50 years. No more kids!
During that time my husband and I accepted a dual relocation with our companies to San Jose, CA, but the thoughts of entrepreneurship and the future of .com everything was still very intriguing. I continued to make pizzelles, and decided to ship some to my mother. The idea of “Bellapizzelle” hit me like a ton of bricks. In a dream, I envisioned a poster tube to send mini pizzelles to customers…and then after many discussions, testing recipes, and shipping methods, Bellapizzelle launched in 2002 upon our return to PA.
Mom and I started the business with four pizzelle irons, a pasta board, and took orders off of the first iteration of a Website – a template from StoresOnline that I purchased for $2,500. There were a lot of bumps and bruises along the way, from bulk recipe testing, package innovation, maintaining shipping quality, technology updates, and of course, marketing. Too much marketing meant we couldn’t keep up – and not enough marketing meant it was that much harder to educate and keep prospects aware of this unique cookie in its authentic form. All this while I was still working full time, but we were determined to differentiate against the REKO brand and Little Pepi’s – pizzelles that are created in a hurry, add additives, and are part of the big money machine.
Still taking it slow, in 2004 we had enough orders, including a few wholesale orders, to build a bakery in our home. With advice and specifications from the FDA and the PA Dept. of Agriculture, our good friend, Chris, built our bakery perfectly to specifications. Since that time we’ve done demonstrations at food shows, have been featured on news programs, radio shows, in a variety of publications including Women’s Day magazine and blogs. We even sponsored a book, Gravy Wars. Mom moved into the cottage on our property in 2008 after dad died.
Business slowly but progressively grew organically. New customers continually find us because they tasted our pizzelles somewhere, received them as a gift, or saw us on social media. In 2015 we met someone who we thought we could trust to procure an Italian pizzelle machine that could produce our recipe – and keep the integrity of the cookie – but yield many more per hour. We invested our hard earned revenue into a trip to Italy for him to see the machine we selected, test our recipe, send back video, and have it shipped to America. Unfortunately, that vision fell through and we parted ways. Maybe it’s better that we don’t go down the path of these mass producers…we’re not interested in getting rich. We wanted to be efficient. But we keep in mind our real purpose:
We’re here to preserve the authenticity of the pizzelle.
We’re here to give mom something that she’s always wanted to do – feel a sense of pride and productivity in her “golden” years.
We are passionate about being challenged. When peers said “It will never work!” “You won’t be able to make money!” All I can think of are Alice’s words by Lewis Carrol, Alice in Wonderland:
“Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”