An Italian cookie first made in a Logan Township woman's kitchen in 2009 can now be found in 28 states.
After the 2008 stock market crash, MaryAnn Petta Cook needed a way to make ends meet.
"The stock market crashed, and I lost my job," Cook said. "I had some money, but when the market went belly up, I was literally left with nothing."
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
MaryAnn Petta Cook says sales of her Bella Lucia Pizzelles is growing rapidly. Diagnosed eight years ago with celiac disease, Cook began experimenting with making gluten-free pizzelles.
Cook, who was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2004, could not enjoy pasta and Italian cookies, so she started experimenting and began making gluten-free pizzelles.
In August 2009, her business, Bella Lucia Gluten Free Pizzelles, was born.
"Bella means beautiful in Italian, and Lucia was my mother's name. If it hadn't been for my mother, I would not have known how to make these," Cook said. "My background in baking was from my mother. She was a great baker."
Cook, a 1971 Altoona Area High School graduate, got her first break when Brenda Montrella at Everything Natural Under the Sun in the Pleasant Valley Shopping Center started to sell her pizzelles.
She continued to make pizzelles in her kitchen until the end of 2010.
After talking with Naomi Poe, owner of Better Batter, a gluten-free flour company, she decided to start looking for a contract baker and hooked up with Petrone's Pizzelles in Erie.
Soon after, Garden Spot of New Holland became a distributor for her products.
Another break occurred in mid-2011 when Wegman's agreed to sell her pizzelles through the grocery store chain.
"This is a great tasting product that is unique. Gluten-free is a tremendous part of our company's focus on health and wellness," said Todd Strassner, State College store manager. "It is hard to find products that taste good that are affordable, and finding a local supplier put it over the edge."
Cook said that is when her business accelerated, going from a handful of businesses carrying her product to close to 200 stores in 20-plus states.
As business continued to grow, she looked for a second baker and landed a contract with McIntyre's Candies in downtown Altoona.
"We already made pizzelle cookies. We had the skill set to make them. We started talking to her in October and had to overcome some logistical issues so [the cookies] could be reproduced identically to the way they were being made in Erie," said McIntyre's co-owner, Don Ruggery Jr. "It is a good opportunity for both of us."
With help from Ruggery, Value Drug Co. became a second distributor for the pizzelles.
"They supply over 500 independent drug stores, mostly in Pennsylvania. Value Drug will take Bella Lucia Pizzelles to whoever will pick them up," Cook said. "We will be in Value Drug's fall catalog and could turn up in some local drug stores in the fall."
Two months ago, Cook picked up a broker in the Midwest to help sell her products.
Sales have grown rapidly.
"In 2010 our gross sales were $4,000; by the end of 2011, our gross sales were up to $75,000, and our projected sales for this year are $350,000," Cook said.
The pizzelles come in three flavors - Saigon cinnamon, anise and vanilla.
Bella Lucia Gluten Free Pizzelles can be purchased locally at Wegman's, Everything Natural Under the Sun and at Hometown Market in Hollidaysburg.