Walking into Stuffed Artisan Cannolis on the Lower East Side, you’ll likely be struck by three things—the bright yellow walls, which contrast brilliantly with the grays of the city, the variety and beauty of the handcrafted Italian pastries on display, and of course, the energy of the two owners, Anthony Fontana and Brielle Dahan.
When I meet with them one evening in early January, I’m greeted warmly. Anthony and Brielle, helping one of the last customers of the evening, are eager to make me feel at home. And even Brielle’s father, a longtime deli owner, is there to help out—although this evening his aid comes in the form of conversation rather than manual labor. “Just try to ignore everything he says,” Brielle jokes to me, and smiles at him, before settling down to talk shop.
Brielle, a goal-oriented and outgoing young woman tells me excitedly about the growth of her business as she offers me a cup of tea or coffee. Making the cannolis was accidental, she explains, although she has always had a sweet tooth. Over two years ago, Brielle was helping out in Anthony’s family’s restaurant when she discovered the idea for the artisan cannolis. Around Thanksgiving in 2007, she was making an Italian-Greek-inspired pumpkin dessert recipe while working in Anthony’s family restaurant. The recipe called for ricotta—fate, perhaps?—and layers of philo dough to wrap the pumpkin mixture. When Brielle realized that she didn’t have the dough she needed to finish the recipe, she was forced to stop. But, refusing to waste the perfectly good mixture, she improvised. And as she stuffed the prepared pumpkin mixture into some of the restaurant’s cannoli shells, the first artisan cannoli was made. When she and Anthony decided to sell them to customers in the restaurant, they were gone in only 30 minutes.
Both Anthony and Brielle come from big families that run restaurants. Neither one had a desire to work in the food industry, but when the idea for Stuffed struck them, they couldn’t ignore it. After Brielle made the first pumpkin cannoli, the pair began brainstorming, developing recipe after recipe to expand their repertoire. Before settling on the Lower East Side, they sold the cannolis for two years out of a cart on Mulberry Street. But the demand and the customer base that grew after two summers in the street, coupled with their success at Little Italy’s Feast of San Gennaro celebration, made a physical store absolutely necessary. The Stanton Street location officially opened in October 2009, allowing the duo to sell cannolis year-round on the Lower East Side.
Brielle tells me that she’s excited to be in the neighborhood. She appreciates cultural diversity of the locals, and she’s looking forward to growing with the community. Highlighting the ethnic diversity of the area, she reminds me that cannolis are an ethnic product—she wants each one she creates to be different and to showcase a unique cultural flavor. Aside from that, she notes that the neighborhood is ripe with young business owners that are poised to reinforce and develop the local feel of the Lower East Side.
When I ask her about her plans for the future, she tells me that she’s excited, but nervous. “I can’t do it alone,” she admits. Noting the support of her family and social network, she exudes confidence. She plans to move the business forward by embracing the talents of her friends and peers, many of whom helped Stuffed in its early stages by designing the logo and setting up the bakery’s website. By helping to build their portfolios, Brielle is encouraging them to grow with her and to “build it up together.”
She has high expectations for the bakery, and hopes that she and Anthony can soon make their cannolis a household name. And I doubt they’ll have any difficulty in securing a solid customer base given the quality and originality of their pastries. Brielle and Anthony only use the highest quality ricotta cheese (bought from a local dairy in New Jersey) and insist on fresh, natural ingredients for all of their cannolis. And at three “minis” for five dollars, Stuffed offers one of the most affordable desserts in Manhattan
Stuffed boasts over 70 flavors of cannolis, and you can find around 15 of them for sale in the store on any given day. Their most popular flavors (and the bakery’s standards) are chocolate, original, cappuccino, and pistachio. But Brielle and Anthony like to mix it up, they tell me, and they encourage customers to try new tastes every time that they come.
They’ve recently launched a new liquor line of cannolis, featuring the refreshing and surprisingly light limoncello cannoli – a fresh zest of lemon adorns the open ends of this creative dessert. The birthday cake cannoli, reminiscent of the children’s favorite Funfetti cake, is a personal favorite of mine, and it’s a treat for any day of the year. And of course, the original cannoli is the bakery’s signature—it’s rich, creamy, with subtle notes of almond in the ricotta.
For Valentine’s Day, the bakery will be introducing a gourmet chocolate line, featuring bacon chocolate and chili chocolate cannolis. Offerings in the bakery generally vary by season, Brielle explains, and she’s continually coming up with new recipes. I look forward to trying out the root beer float and creamsicle flavors this summer—but for now, I’m happy to slide in to the bright Lower East Side storefront of Stuffed Artisan Cannolis to enjoy all the tastes of winter.
Stuffed Artisan Cannolis is located at 176 Stanton St (near Clinton). To get there, take the JMZ/F to Delancey/Essex. For private parties or custom orders, contact Brielle Dahan at firstname.lastname@example.org. The store is open on Tuesday through Thursday from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.