[EDITOR'S NOTE — Each week, this feature section, “Movers and Makers,” will feature the stories of the movers, launchers, entrepreneurs and makers who contribute to the vitality of the Mahoning Valley. This section is supported by our first community partner, Farmers National Bank.]
CORTLAND — Just Pizzelles is celebrating Easter with an in-store Easter egg hunt event Thursday through Saturday.
During normal business hours, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., all customers can find one of the various plastic eggs hidden in the store when making their purchase. All eggs have a prize inside and one lucky winner will receive $100.
Each egg has a piece of chocolate inside along with a colored piece of paper. At the register, a Just Pizzelles employee will match the colored piece of paper to the prize on a chart. Prizes vary from Easter candy, Just Pizzelles coupons, free pizzelles, tea and sample bags of coffee.
Just Pizzelles owner Christina Benton told Mahoning Matters her business was unable to host its usual events at the shop during the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically their one-year anniversary at the new shop at 211 W Main St. The egg hunt was her way of doing “something a little different” while still encouraging social distancing guidelines by spreading the event over two weekends.
Benton said she always had a passion for baking. Before starting Just Pizzelles about 13 years ago, Benton spent her spare time making wedding cakes, made-to-order desserts and more than 40 cookies during the holiday season.
When she decided to add pizzelles, the traditional Italian waffle cookie, to her cookie trays one year, her aunt — who regularly ordered pizzelles from Italy — strongly encouraged her to start a cookie business selling “just pizzelles.”
“I thought, OK, she's crazy because selling one cookie, let alone half the world doesn't even know what a pizzelle is,” she said. “But, [my aunt] had a business of her own back in the day, and I thought, ‘Well, you know, maybe she's onto something.’”
Initially friends and family “hated the ideas” of Benton starting a pizzelle business, because they didn’t like pizzelles themselves.
“They hated them. Because of the anise flavor so then I got to thinking, ‘Well, why do they just have to be vanilla and anise, like who says?’” she said.
“So I just started to create different flavors. I think the first little show I ever did, like a little craft show, I had about 13 flavors and people went nuts. Iit was only like 13 flavors at the time, and now we're at over 90 flavors,” she added.
Just Pizzelles had massive success from the start, earning a spot on Rachael Ray’s “Snack of the Day” segment 2009 and the Oscar Academy Awards SWAG bags in 2010.
Just Pizzelles makes more than 90 flavors of pizzelles, with carrot cake and lemon being top sellers in the spring, along with their year-round top seller the margarita pizzelle.
“Our newest flavor that we actually just debuted starting [last week] for Easter is a peep,” Benton said. “We do have a couple of different things on the horizon we haven't really put it out there yet because we're finalizing some details.”
In addition to pizzelles, Just Pizzelles carries a custom blend of coffee grounds and k-cups from a private label, with notes of caramel, chocolate and vanilla. For non-coffee drinkers, just pizzelles also sells hot and iced tea and honey from locally-owned FarmGirl’s Honey.
Customers can also take home the smell of the pizzelle shop in a Just Pizzelles candle, offered in scents anise, vanilla, birthday cake, margarita and mocha latte.
“When people will walk in the store, right away, they're like, ‘Oh my gosh it smells so good in here, what are you making today?’’’ Benton said. “We hear so many stories from people, ‘Oh I used to make it with my grandmother or it's a family event,’ I mean, we hear stories all day long about all these memories they have but it all comes back to smelling it. So I decided okay let's maybe do some candles.”
Benton said Just Pizzelles has many out-of-town customers who visit the shop from Cincinnati, Columbus, Pittsburgh and other cities — not just to eat the Italian cookies, but to reminisce in the memories the cookies represent.
“People will just drive [here], and they just sit. I have little tables and chairs,” she said. “An older couple that came a couple months ago and brought a friend with them and they just drove an hour and a half, two hours just to the shop. They sat down for a while and we compared recipes and stories and, you know, half of that is just hearing all the stories and memories everyone has.”
“It's not just, ‘Get your stuff and go. There's your sale and there's your gift you need,’ but we get to experience with them their memories,” she added.