Angie Risi, owner of Maria’s West Pizza Pasta Pastry in Brantford, Ont., knows firsthand the benefits that homemade dessert can bring to a pizza joint. Her cannoli are now as famous as her pizza, with each product attracting specific customers who, once inside the restaurant, find themselves unable to purchase one without the other.
Risi’s idea to offer authentic Italian cannoli was sparked seven years ago when a friend ordered pizza from a chain and the delivery came with a little chocolate lava cake. “I remember thinking, ‘That’s kind of weird. A better pick would be cannoli.’ So I went home and made a dozen cannoli, put them on the counter the next day and they sold within a minute,” Risi explains.
Despite their initial success, she wasn’t quite ready to bring them into the pizzeria full time. Instead, Risi rented a booth at her local farmer’s market where she sold various flavours of cannoli for $2 apiece. With 7,000 people venturing through the market every weekend, it didn’t take long for word to get out. “As far as authenticity goes, the Italian community said my Napoleon cannoli was the most authentic one they’ve ever had and there’s nothing like the Italian community to get the word out, for sure,” Risi says.
She soon formed Solely Cannoli as its own separate business and continued on at the market for several years with great success. Then, in March of 2016, Risi decided that from an operational standpoint, it was time to bring her two loves together: pizza and cannoli in one location at Maria’s West. “I was a little nervous at first, because I thought the customers from Solely Cannoli wouldn’t come to the pizza shop. But they came and then they’d buy a slice.”
The happy marriage has been working in reverse as well, with pizza customers initially purchasing one or two cannoli to try after their pizza, and then on their next visit buying a half dozen or dozen to complement their large pizza. Risi’s 40-seat, counter-service restaurant has enjoyed a 25 per cent increase in sales since her award-winning cannoli came on the scene. “The two items combined is incredible. I think there are some people that come just so they can buy the two at once,” Risi says.
Production is now over 1,000 cannoli per week in various flavours including Sicilian (traditional ricotta cheese, chocolate chips, fruit and orange rind), Napoleon (Plain) with rum custard, tiramisu, pie flavours like lemon, coconut and maple walnut, and seasonal favourites like pumpkin. Risi has weekly standing orders with local restaurants and caterers as well, noting that after her desserts are featured at weddings, sales increase like clockwork. “All you need is to have your business cards there on the dessert table and it spreads like wildfire.”
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Of course, logistically, Risi has had to make some changes in the kitchen to incorporate her desserts into the pizza business. With four hours per day spent handcrafting her cannoli in 20-count batches, it’s a time-intensive endeavour. “I have more staff handling the pizza side and I have one more cannoli roller to help me because we bake all the cannolis on premises as well,” Risi explains. “The recipes are handmade from scratch and the cannoli, especially the cream, have to be made in small batches and there’s no going around that without compromising on taste. I haven’t found a solution yet to make them in bulk and frankly I don’t want to.”
Looking north to the cottage country in the Muskokas, Humble Pie Butter Tart Factory and Pizzeria, located in Baysville, Ont., has been enjoying the happy union of pizza and dessert since 2011, albeit in the reverse order of Risi. Michelle MacIsaac opened the bakery first in April 2010 and introduced pizza the following year to appeal to a broader market during the winter months. Her idea was a hit. “It didn’t take very long for the pizza product to gain in popularity. It’s now 50 per cent of our sales,” MacIsaac says.
Customers love her pizza product, which incorporates MacIsaac’s father’s sauce recipe. He acquired it on a trip to Sicily and used it in his own Toronto pizzeria, Pizza Inn, when she was growing up. “We’re finding it’s a very good solution for families. We can offer a variety of pizza products at a reasonable price and then they have the pizza and dessert in one stop. We have people come in for the bakery, they see the pizza, and then start to buy the pizza products. And it works in the reverse now, too,” MacIsaac explains.
As a take-out only, retail location, Humble Pie employs up to seven people during the busy summer months when cottagers descend on the sleepy village. The bakery side of the business is known for its made-from-scratch pies, butter tarts, giant cookies, and savoury and sweet buttermilk scones. MacIsaac ensures all the baking is done by noon, at which point she can turn up the ovens and begin her pizza offerings from noon to close. The ingredients for her pizzas often inspire fun new recipes for her quiches and meat pies, showing how the bakery and pizzeria work together to fuel creative products that keep customers lining up for more.
If you’re thinking of adding a dessert offering to your pizzeria, MacIsaac recommends doing some research before jumping in: “I would say look for a baked good product that appeals to a broad market and discuss it with your customers. I don’t think it necessarily needs to be Italian, it just needs to appeal to your demographic, your customer base. It’s about creating a one-stop shop for your customers, which is going to boost sales.”
Risi agrees, noting that once you decide on a product, you have to ensure it is top-notch. “It has to be authentic. It has to be a great-tasting product. As long as you can do that, it doesn’t necessarily matter what you’re making. And you have to love what you do at the same time. If you don’t love what you’re doing, it comes through in the taste as well.”
As Risi puts it, dessert is the last thing your customer is going to eat that day; it’s up to you to make sure it’s something great.
Try a fun dessert pizza recipe or visit our sister magazine Bakers Journal for more dessert ideas, recipes and techniques.
Julie Fitz-Gerald is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Canadian Pizza magazine.