“You have a dream and you think you know how to make that dream come true, but it’s so wonderful to have the resources available. Northern Initiatives really helped us.”
Bethany Bauer and Brittany Meloche remember lunchtime at their previous job – scheming and dreaming of the pastry shop they wanted to open.
“We found out about the Italian families we each grew up in and we started eating lunch together and daydreaming. The biggest thing was, there was nowhere around here to get good cannoli,” said Bauer. They wanted to bring a taste of Italy to Muskegon.
Those dreams were more about mascarpone than marketing and the women knew they needed not just capital but education, too. Through fellow Italians, the owners of Nipote’s Italian Kitchen, they found out that Northern Initiatives, a CDFI with a mission to provide money and know how, not only could help with funding the startup phase, but had all sorts of technical assistance to go with it.
After securing a loan for equipment, they increased the pastry production and plunged into Initiate, Northern Initiatives’ online technical assistance portal. Access to Initiate and its plethora of online resources is available to all Northern Initiatives loan customers.
As part of Northern Initiatives’ blended learning approach, Business Coach Chris Wendel started working with the women in conjunction with their online lessons. “They really wanted to learn,” Wendel said. He remembers a struggle with balance sheets. “They just couldn’t get their heads around it, then something in a video clicked. The lightbulb went on.” He especially credits Bauer and Meloche for their openness to learning. “Admitting you don’t know financial statements is hard for a business owner to say,” Wendel said.
At first, the women were creating their pastries in an incubator kitchen and selling at farmers markets. It was getting expensive because they paid the kitchen by the hour and they make all their shells and cream from scratch. “Spending so much time in the kitchen was getting astronomical. We needed something more stable, more predictable,” Bauer said. In 2019, they moved into a tiny space, “nothing glamorous, less than 300 square feet, in a cute area of Muskegon,” Bauer said. Road construction started outside their door the day of the grand opening. What was supposed to take a couple months took almost the entire year they were there.
But still, the cannoli, cakes, cheesecake and cookies kept selling. Turns out “Italians abound” in Muskegon, Bauer laughed, and word-of-mouth helped grow the business.
In 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, The Only Cannoli used a second Northern Initiatives loan to expand to a larger location in downtown Muskegon. Both Northern Initiatives loans were funded by an investment from the Community Foundation for Muskegon County, designated to help small businesses in their area.
Sales continued to flourish in the new location and the women continued their education on Initiate and with Wendel, paying special attention to goal-setting and projections. “We wanted to prepare for the worst but who could have predicted 2020?” Bauer said.
Their COVID strategy included expanding the menu for growing demand while streamlining the interior model for take-out orders in the new, larger location. They now provide Nipote’s with cannoli, along with other wholesale clients, and are catering weddings, brunches and showers. They offer cannoli kits and helped create the Obi-Wan Cannoli ice cream treat at UCC Desserts. They employ four people besides themselves.
“You have a dream and you think you know how to make that dream come true, but it’s so wonderful to have the resources available,” Bauer said. “Northern Initiatives really helped us.”
The Only Cannoli