When Melbourne cannoli cafe Eat Cannoli started in 2017, it was a humble dessert truck run by husband-and-wife team Dom and Kate Marzano — specialising in gluten free cannoli. Now they’ve expanded to a brick-and-mortar store in the Melbourne suburb Preston, expanding their offerings to savoury options, while also continuing to build a community of cannoli lovers!
We spoke to Dom and Kate to learn more about their journey, and how they’ve been navigating an expansion during COVID-19.
Tell us a bit about how Eat Cannoli got started.
For over 20 years, Dom had been working as a chef and was a head chef for the Grossi family (owners of Grossi Florentino, Mirka at Tolarno Hotel) and the De Oliviera family (The Palace Hotel, Bouzy Rouge and North Melbourne Hotel). However he was looking for a change of pace and wanted to spend more time with our young family.
We originally discussed starting a small catering business and thought that perhaps cannoli making could be a way of getting our name out there. As we started doing markets and events, the popularity of our cannoli grew.
Why did you choose to make your cannoli 100% gluten free?
We hand-make all our shells from scratch, and we always thought that having a gluten-free option was important. However, when we were developing our gluten-free cannoli shells, we were so blown away by how well the pastry bubbled and crunched that we decided to only offer gluten-free cannoli. Now we are fully Coeliac Australia accredited!
How has the business evolved in the past few years?
We went from our marquee to a vintage caravan which we named “Ivana” (I-Van-a Cannoli!) Then the brick-and-mortar store in Preston came up, so we jumped at the chance. In hindsight, this was a great decision. Given all the goings on with COVID-19, we have been very lucky to no longer rely on markets and festivals for our business.
What are some of your favourite products on the menu?
We started offering the take-home packs a couple of years ago and we offer them with any of the seven flavours on our menu. We always have the classics such as ricotta, vanilla (which we creme brûlée), and chocolate. We have a bit of fun with the other flavours!
A lot of customers bring in their fruit as a bit of a swap and we develop a flavour based on that. As an example we were given some rhubarb so we did a rhubarb and apple flavour. Currently we have strawberry and fennel from fresh wild fennel plants. We also always offer at least two vegan flavours.
But we don’t just offer cannoli! We also sell handmade gluten-free pastries, cookies and Italian doughnuts. Plus, our savoury options include paninis, lasagne and GF arancini. Our favourite menu item other than the cannoli would have to be our GF tiramisu, which is made completely from scratch.
How are you navigating COVID-19? What changes have you noticed to the business?
Since the dining restrictions came in place we’ve sort of just adapted. For us, it meant offering some other things such as take-home meals and some grocery staples such as GF bread, flour and milk. Amazing customer service has always been our ethos and I think people love getting served by the makers of the food and getting to know us on a personal level. That was important to us and our advice for other small businesses like ours to see out these challenging times, is to adapt and always give your customers your best.
We are so lucky to be supported by an amazing local community and our coeliac community too, but we are also meeting new customers that are seeking us out having been recommended by a friend, family member or colleague, which is lovely too.
How did you get set up with Square? What tools do you use the most?
We set up with Square from the beginning. We started with the Square Reader as this was the easiest device to use when we were mobile. When we moved into our new HQ, we purchased the Dock for Square Reader with the Square Stand which worked well. When the Terminal became available, we purchased this, as we found it was the best fit for how our business was growing and the extra demands we had on our POS system.
What’s next for Eat Cannoli? Any exciting plans on the horizon?
We have recently expanded into the space next door which became available at the beginning of the year. We have done a full renovation, which has meant seeing a few more of our dreams come to life by offering more seating inside, a covered courtyard and an open kitchen. We are looking forward to seeing growth when the restrictions are lifted, and what the Square system will offer as we grow.
With everything going on at the moment we don’t know any of our colleagues that have not been affected in one way or another. We feel very fortunate to be able to trade given that some many others are not in the position to do so.
We feel lucky to have a lovely community of like-minded small food business owners that support each other and we are already discussing ways to collaborate when all of this is over.
We are also excited about how these adaptations can become part of our core business and we hope to include these additions in our expansion.
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