Monday, May 21, 2018
Business

Joey Biscotti hits the sweet spot in Safety Harbor

SAFETY HARBOR

Joe DeBortoli and Steven Wright opened their little storefront bakery on Main Street in Safety Harbor in April without any fanfare.

"We did no advertising," said DeBortoli. "We just stuck a sign on the window and hoped."

The sign says "Joey Biscotti/Eat Your Cake." The name, a reference to a popular Italian cookie, also was inspired by The Sopranos, in which characters sometimes have whimsical names. So far, luck has been with the new entrepreneurs. Some locals already have become regulars at the shop, and sweets lovers from here and there wander in throughout the day.

A "small-batch bakery" is what the partners call their little shop. The output of the bakery is kept small, Wright said, to prevent baked goods from going uneaten and to keep products as fresh as possible.

Among the sweets luring passers-by with a fragrant scent or luscious eye appeal are tall frosted layer cakes, slices of lime coconut squares and, of course, lots of biscotti, their signature cookies made for dunking in tea or coffee.

The bakers-owners, who moved from New York City to Tampa in 2009, said they use sugar instead of substitute sweeteners, and they juice fresh limes, lemons and oranges rather than using bottled juices.

"If you are going to splurge," said Wright of calorie-counting sweets lovers, "you want to splurge on a cake or cookie with authentic and fresh ingredients."

When DeBortoli bakes biscotti, he's reminded of his childhood. He grew up eating the Italian treat, a specialty of his paternal grandmother. He and Wright modified her original recipe to adapt it to Florida's humid climate.

"It was perfect in New York," Wright said, "but here we had to take all the fat out of the batter because it soaked up the humidity in the air and got too moist."

The newly tweaked biscotti are crisp, longer than most commercially produced kinds, and filled with mouth-watering ingredients, including chocolate chips, hazelnuts, pistachios, cherries and cranberries.

Other desserts also get original touches from the two bakers. Stacked on a kitchen shelf are colorful dessert cookbooks, but the bakers change the recipes to satisfy their personal taste.

One recent morning, Wright took a moist coconut orange cake out of the oven. DeBortoli likes the combination of orange and chocolate, so the cake is destined to be frosted with a rich chocolate ganache, not part of the original recipe.

"We do modern twists," added Wright. "When we find a recipe we like, we tweak it to make it ours."

DeBortoli, 49, who works in merchandising for Crate & Barrel, and Wright, 52, a former singer and dancer in off-Broadway and regional theater productions, share a passion for baking, a creative outlet that came about accidentally. They began baking for fun in their New York City apartment and took extra goodies to their workplaces and friends' homes.

"People went crazy for the baked goods and asked to purchase them," said Wright, "so we sat down and tried to work out pricing."

The partners made baking a priority once they arrived in Florida. They rented a kitchen at Your Pro Kitchen, a licensed commercial kitchen operation in Largo, and went to work marketing biscotti and other sweets at farmers markets in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties. They also set up a booth at the Third Friday street festivals in downtown Safety Harbor, where they still market their cakes and cookies.

Everything from biscotti to cheesecake to muffins sells, DeBortoli said, adding that they have been selling out at the street festivals.

The Main Street shop, formerly another bakery, became available this year, and the two decided the timing was right for a storefront. Wright opted to run it full time. DeBortoli comes in at least once a week.

The partners have a few goals for their new shop. Breadmaking is one, since customers have been requesting it. DeBortoli also would like to work full time at the bakery when circumstances permit.

Both men are hopeful their business will continue to grow.

"We've been made to feel welcome in this community," Wright said of Safety Harbor, where the two hope to move shortly. "People from all over this county support local businesses."

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