Family of Bakers

Biscotti and Me

Fancy Food Show 1983, Michael & Theresa Di Camillo.

There is always a moment, or a product that sets loose an entirely new trend in the marketplace. Invariably, it is on the shoulders of what came before, but there is that moment when something explodes on the scene with all the newness of new life. I was fortunate to have been there at such a moment. 

Still, to have been the first is no guarantee of longevity, profit-- or even the recognition of originality.  I have been fortunate to have experienced all of them.  

Di Camillo Storefront 14th Street - 1925

In 1920 my grandparents set in motion a humble enterprise in Niagara Falls, New York: a bakery and a grocery store.  They made bread and biscotti for their neighbors.  Against incredible odds, this family enterprise continues to this day.

Our Original Biscotti Di Vino Bag

In 1979 I took our family’s Biscotti di Vino and put them in a brown coffee style bag, tied a piece of brown ribbon around the bag, and sketched a label. With all the confidence of youth, I packed my samples and headed to New York City.  I knew what was happening in food retailing, as I had lived around the corner from Zabars in the mid-1970s. It seemed to me, at the time, that every week they had taken over a new storefront on Broadway. The vitality of “food-halls” in the upscale department stores—Bloomingdale’s, Saks, Macy’s and Neiman Marcus was hard to miss. The Silver Pallet,  E.A.T., and Baldacci’s were among the most exciting. The sight of bags of “Famous Amos Chocolate Chip cookies” in Bloomingdales window stuck with me!  However, it was the opening of Dean & Deluca that made me see my future.  

Michael Di Camillo, 1982

My samples in hand I walked into these stores, and sold them on the spot!  It was from these sales that word spread.   Simply being on the shelf of these iconic stores was enough. Word spread with a rapidity I’ll never forget.   Calls came to us from all over the country without engaging any sales-force, or agents. The internet was still over a decade away. The New York Times was the first to give us national media recognition.  On Wednesday December 3, 1980 Florence Fabricant wrote:

“One of the more sophisticated cookies to appear in recent months is Di Camillo’s Biscotti Di Vino, buttery, sesame coated red wine sticks”.

Bloomingdale's 1980, Michael Di Camillo

My timing had been perfect. Before that simple bag of our Biscotti di Vino appeared in the hallowed food-halls of New York, “biscotti” was generally an unknown food outside of the Italian-American community in America.  But the next ten years saw an ever-growing recognition, and our menu of biscotti grew with it. The Fancy Food Shows spread the word with a staggering momentum. Bloomingdale’s window-displays of Di Camillo biscotti followed, and we became a fixture in the Nieman Marcus catalogue. It was a dream come true.

By 1990 the specialty food market was awash in American biscotti companies who had been inspired by our success.  Many penetrated the market more massively, expanded the category, and took the concept in different directions.  All of them helped to make this country more aware of this Italian take on a cookie. It was again the New York Times that caught the tenor of what had happened.  It was Miriam Burros who wrote the half-page article on biscotti, Wednesday October 20, 1993 which she titled "For The ‘Deny Me’ Decade, The Right Cookie”. I am proud of the fact she listed Di Camillo Bakery first.

Marshall Fields, Chicago 1982, Michael Di Camillo

This in a nut shell is how it all began, and why today any reasonably- informed twelve year old in North America knows what “biscotti” is.

Michael Di Camillo Fancy Food Show, NYC Coliseum 1982

 

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