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You will, if you try one from Golden Cannoli Shells Inc. The family-owned, 40-year-old bakery is rolling in the dough at its more spacious, 30,000-sq.-ft. production facility in Chelsea, Mass., to which it relocated in September. The largest national cannoli maker in the U.S. strives for top product quality and strict food-safety standards as well as to ‘just doing things right.’ It’s these and many other reasons that make Golden Cannoli our 2013 Bakery of the Year.
Claiming to be the largest manufacturer of authentic cannoli shells and ricotta filling, Golden Cannoli Shells Inc., Chelsea, Mass., has a rich 40-plus-year heritage. And why not, given that it makes crispy, delectable, hand-rolled cannoli shells and luscious ricotta cheese-based filling? Serving supermarkets, convenience and clubstores as well as restaurants, the bakery has been recognized for quality cannoli products and packaging, top customer service and its keen commitment to fair pricing and on-time deliveries.
A traditional Sicilian pastry, the cannoli marries many beloved flavors in every bite, making it perfect for almost any occasion. In fact, with Golden Cannoli’s help, cannoli is establishing itself as a signature dessert in the U.S. To accommodate the growing cannoli demand and increase awareness, the company has just moved to a new facility in Chelsea that’s roughly three times the size of its former plant in Somerville. The spacious 30,000-sq.-ft. facility will allow Golden Cannoli to significantly increase production capacity.
In 1970, cousins Francesco Bono and Angelo Bresciani ran two Italian bakeries in Somerville, selling pastries and cannoli to local restaurants and other bakeries. Demand for the cannoli shells and creamy filling was so great that they started Golden Cannoli. The “tube-like” cannoli pastry shell is filled with ricotta cheese cream sweetened with sugar and vanilla. Filled fresh by customers, the combination has zero trans-fat, is certified kosher and contains no preservatives, artificial flavors or colors.
The shells come in traditional and chocolate-coated flavors; the filling comes in ricotta cheese and chocolate chip varieties. The chocolate in which the shells can be enrobed combines a custom blend of milk and dark chocolate.
Restaurants, foodservice providers and other bakers quickly came to know the Golden Cannoli products as premium cannoli. So the business started to expand across the country, as the two brothers understood that in the food industry there can be no substitute for quality in presentation or taste.
Fast forward to 2001: The company’s pace really escalated, and the bakers decided to let their children begin to take over. Today, Francesco Bono’s two daughters—Valerie Bono, owner and vice president, director of sales, and her sister, Maria Elena Malloy, owner, finance/human resources—and their cousins, and Angelo Bresciani's sons, Eric Bresciani, owner, SQF practioner and head of business development, and his brother, Edwin Bresciani, owner, plant manager/operations manager, as well as their staff of 37, are determined and dedicated to producing the best cannoli they can.
“2001 is when Eric and I start working here, and Ed was already working for the bakery,” Bono says. “And then, my sister, Maria, came on board five years later when my dad retired in 2006. In fact, both my dad and uncle fully retired in 2006 and turned the business over to us. Currently, we’re trying to find a way to see our parents more often—mine retired to Florida. We hope to get them to visit to see the new facility. If we have a grand opening, my father and uncle will be beside themselves.”
The products are distributed nationwide, and the bakery generates more than 100,000 shells a day. The shells and separate pastry bags of filling are sold to bakeries in Boston’s North End, to various pizzerias and restaurants and frozen to in-store supermarket bakeries.
In January 2009, the bakery created a network of brokers nationwide to promote sales and growth in the marketplace, including but not limited to foodservice, supermarkets, hypermarkets, clubstores, specialty gourmet stores, restaurants, hotels and convenience stores.
“There are other national cannoli manufacturers, but they’re not doing the volume we’re doing,” points out Valerie Bono. “They may have more dollar sales in cheesecake, pies and pastries and things, but as far as cannoli is concerned, there’s no way anyone comes close to us. Because this isn’t just a building or a business—this is our life.”
Following the traditions of their fathers, the second-generation owners’ efforts are paying off, according to Ed Bresciani.
Bono says that 40 years ago, she doesn’t think her father and uncle would have imagined that their business would become such a success. “They were mostly concerned with freshness and quality,” she adds. “They didn’t think the business would end up producing close to half a million shells a day, on average.”
That may not sound like a lot to some bakers, but to the second-generation owners at Golden Cannoli, it’s quite an accomplishment, Bono adds. “We’re more of a niche bakery, primarily making cannoli shells and filling. To us, 100,000 shells a day is an enormous amount.”
That’s because the shells are still rolled by hand, despite all of the production equipment being installed at the new plant. Bono says Golden Cannoli takes pride in the fact that the shells are still made the “old-fashioned” way.
“We have a new automatic fryer and a new sheeter and mixer, so we have acquired a lot of new equipment from Italy,” says Eric Bresciani. “Many of the production functions are automated, but at the same time, we have a lot of handwork on the lines. We find that it achieves just the right quality.”
Available in four standard shell sizes of 2, 3, 4 and 5 in. long (Golden Cannoli has created a 21-ft.-long version that has broken world records), the cannoli are versatile, which makes them unlike any other dessert item. Filling possibilities are seemingly endless, and those from Golden Cannoli will be expanded to a variety of both sweet and savory flavors. “We’re working on some new fruit flavors as well as chocolate, cappuccino and caramel fillings and are testing some savory items,” Bono points out.
The shells have nearly a one-year shelf life if stored in a cool, dry place. The filling, which is packed in triangular 2.5-lb. clear film pastry bags, has a frozen shelf life of six months. Bono says her firm only uses the highest standard of quality ingredients to ensure that each shell has the taste and freshness its customers desire. The dough is conditioned “just so,” to ensure a crispy, golden surface. But the bakery also hand-dips the shells in chocolate, which is one of its signature treats.
“We may try again this year to create the world’s longest cannoli. All of the proceeds will go to a local charity,” she says. “The size [of cannoli] is more evidence that the dessert has become ‘Americanized.’ Places in the North End think bigger is better. They really want to impress people who walk in the door and have this really filled, big cannoli shell.”
All of the cannoli shells are also manually removed from their metal rolling tubes (dowels) after they’re fried and gently case-packed by hand. “We do what bakeries want to do, but we do it for them,” Bono says.
Most of the products are shipped across the country and to Canada by common carrier, though they’re also trucked to local establishments. “We sell about 50% of the product fresh and 50% frozen,” she explains. “We don’t fill the cannoli shells here. To prevent them from getting soggy, we pack and ship the shells and the filling separately. Customers fill the cannoli themselves, so it’s fresh when their consumer buys it.”
Everything is produced to order within 24 to 48 hours. “It’s a quick turnaround,” observes Malloy. “And lately, our phones just never stop ringing.”
The great crane lift
In fact, demand basically forced the bakery to a point where it ran out of room. So on Sept. 24, the cousins relocated from the original bakery location in Somerville to the roomier space in Chelsea, about four miles away. “The bakery was in Somerville from the start,” Bono remembers. “We didn’t have much time to move because we had to continue to make product.”
Several months ago, the cousins sat down and discussed the move and realized they needed to have all of the equipment in the new location and running by the end of September. “Eric laughed and said we’d have a lot more problems if we didn’t get the equipment up and running when we did,” Bono says. “So we had all of our production equipment lifted out in one piece by crane onto a flatbed trailer and hauled it over to Chelsea from Somerville. It was a huge risk, but we felt we had to take it.”
Astonishingly, all of the equipment remained intact as the giant crane moved it out of the old building. “Otherwise, it would have taken too much time to dismantle and put back together,” Bono says. “We figured we’d have the crane pull the machines out from the second floor in Somerville—and it turned out to be the best option. The fryers are long, and the conveyors are 40 ft. long. But the crane made two trips with the truck—we rented them for a day. We used a lot of strapping and supports and just prayed that the crane or the machinery wouldn’t break.”
Says Eric Bresciani, “When Val told me she wanted to move all of the production lines by crane and flatbed, I thought she was kidding. But there were really few choices in the timeline we had.”
Bono reasoned with the movers and crane operator. “I told them it was a unique situation, but they had to trust me,” she says. “They looked at it as a challenge and did everything in four hours. It was pretty intense, but we did a lot of preparation all night before, detaching machines from the floor and wrapping them, making sure they were secure.”
Working literally around the clock every day since May, the four partners cleaned and cleared everything at the new location and are busy making it compliant for an upcoming Safe Quality Food (SQF) inspection. They also installed equipment, office furniture and various other items in a matter of days. “We have four production lines here right now,” Eric Bresciani notes. “We have a mix of new and existing equipment at this point: Two cannoli shell lines; one cannoli filling pastry bag filling line; and a chocolate enrobing line. We’re hoping to develop something that will remain crunchy being already filled, but not just yet.”
“We’re still moving a few pieces of equipment from the former building,” Bono adds. Operating in the same small building in Somerville for so long made it a bit difficult to adjust to a larger facility. “There’s a lot more to manage,” she admits. “We now have more forklifts, more trucks. We’re buying three times as many ingredients, three times the packaging and other materials. When you grow like we are, everything changes, but that’s what happens when you expand to a national sales/distribution level.”
The four cousins are all passionate about what they make. Fortunately, each is focused on different aspects of the business, which is a good thing, Bono says. “Together, we’re successful because we all excel at something different,” she explains. “In any family business, things can get stressful. But meetings must be conducted and followed up on, and every time, the projects get done. The business has expanded so quickly, but we always remember to stay true to our fathers’ values of running a good, solid, clean business, taking care of our employees, being concerned with the environment, helping the community.”
New cannoli concepts
Besides launching new filling flavors, the company has already introduced a new concept in cannoli: The chip-and-dip platter. “We offer a 1-lb., 8.75-oz. package of cannoli chips and a container of the ricotta filling as a dip, which has really propelled things for us,” Bono says. “People like these because you can take the whole thing to a party. It’s convenient, it’s a conversation starter and it saves a lot of prep time.
“We also offer powdered sugar- and cinnamon-dusted chips alone (9.24-oz.) because some people only want to eat the chips. We noticed people breaking up the shells and eating them with the cream, or pudding, so it was a natural line extension.”
Introduced last November, the chip-and-dip products are available in supermarkets and small restaurants and pizzerias. The sugar- and cinnamon-dusted chip packs and platters are making their way into big-box supermarkets and Walmarts as well other large supermarket chains and convenience stores. “A lot of people are having more gatherings at home instead of going out to eat, so they can take this to a party,” Bono says. “It’s a conversation starter and it saves a lot of prep time."
Bono says the bakery isn’t stopping there. “We’ve noticed that everyone’s launching portable packages, the grab-‘n-go’s—something quick, easy, calorie-conscious and not-too-much,” she adds.
Latching onto this portion-control trend, Golden Cannoli’s other latest phenomenon is Malloy’s invention—a single-serve, grab-and-go cannoli shell chips and ricotta cheese dip combo pack, which launched in September. A dessert take on the basic tortilla chip-and-dip kit, the single-serve chip-and-dips are available in pizzeria and restaurant freezer cases and convenience stores in clear plastic containers. “We think these the chip-and-dips are the first in their kind,” she says. “As soon as people see the mini kits, they buy them. They fly. They really are taking off.”
And there are many other opportunities for new product development in making custom recipes, sizes, shapes and flavors. “We all come up with new products one way or another, but Maria developed the chip-and-dips,” Bono says. “We were at a tradeshow and ran out of product, so we’d break the cannoli into pieces and give out samples with a bit of dip on the end, and they really took off. Smaller portions and convenience packaging are so popular today that a nice, small cannoli dessert sounded right. We hope to get the chip-and-dip into many national convenience-store chains and supermarket delis. The single-serve size is helping us dive into the dessert chip trend taking over the industry.”
Branding challenges and SQF
Bono says the bakery faces challenges in keeping the traditions alive in the dessert of cannoli. “We’ve been behind the scenes,” she says. “That’s the difference between us and a lot of shops that make cannoli: We are truly a mass manufacturer. If you have had cannoli from a supermarket bakery, chances are it’s ours.”
Golden Cannoli markets its products under some private-label brands and will expand both the private-label and its own Golden Cannoli brand, but Bono says she wants to gain more brand recognition for Golden Cannoli. “These days, private-label is selling well, but it’s challenging because we want to find a way to create more value for our brand; we want people to crave a Golden Cannoli. But all of these things have brought awareness to cannoli, so that just helps to expand its prospects in general.”
The facility is also about to receive its SQF Level 2 certification and is expanding distribution from the U.S. and Canada to Mexico and overseas. “We also use the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system and are certified with SQF to continue to work with some of the largest customers in the world,” Bono explains.
Always very strict about its sanitation procedures, the bakery has stepped them up another notch with SQF, Eric Bresciani says. “Now, things are even more thorough than before SQF, yet we cut the time it takes to clean things. We have specific equipment in certain rooms and they stay in those rooms so that nothing is cross-contaminated. We keep things separate for our kosher, pareve and kosher dairy requirements. SQF has actually made things easier. We clean every day, and every machine is dismantled, cleaned, sanitized and put back together.”
Customers require food-safety certification, adds Ed Bresciani. “Organizing the business through SQF has improved the operation and brought our employees a real sense of ownership, so that it’s not just cannoli going by on a conveyor anymore,” he explains. “Just having people accountable for their roles and responsibilities means that they now ask, ‘Is that the best cannoli we can make? Was it done appropriately and safely?’ So that’s a big success. That’s been the biggest change. In our SQF training classes, you can see the change in our people.”
Even brighter future
There’s so much business to be had in the world of cannoli, Bono considers. “This is an exciting time for us,” she says. “We started with 10 or 11 employees and now have almost 40 and will be doubling that. With the move completed, we can now better serve the needs of our customers.”
She’s looking forward to the upcoming food tradeshows, to perhaps developing a gluten-free version of cannoli and to possibly adding another production facility in a another state. “We know we’re doing things right; it’s just a matter of unpacking in this new facility and getting everything done and setting up all of the new programs. But the business has changed greatly in the last few years as we’ve taken on more responsibility,” Bono says.
Bono knows when business flourishes, functions must become more efficient and processes must get faster. “We may even have to expand again soon. This is our passion; I think our fathers are proud.”
From left to right: Edwin Bresciani, owner, plant manager/operations manager, Eric Bresciani, owner, SQF practitioner and head of business development, Valerie Bono, owner, vice president and director of sales and Maria Elena Malloy, owner, finance/human resources. All show their many new products and cannoli shells.
In late September, a giant crane, above, was used to lift most of the equipment from the former facility in Somerville, Mass., onto a flatbed truck. Strapped and wrapped, the equipment astonishingly arrived at the new facility in Chelsea, Mass., in one piece.