New Jersey-transplants Marissa and Mario Massarelli settled down in the Lowcountry in July to start the next phase of their lives – Holy City Cannoli.
The couple made the decision to leave the “hustle and bustle” of New Jersey for the “laid-back” atmosphere of Charleston.
“It’s very family-oriented,” Marissa said about the decision. “Which is really important for us since we have a newborn.”
The couple vacationed in Charleston for several years and even got married here a few years back.
“We just knew this was the place where we wanted to be,” Marissa added.
Working in the food industry isn’t a new thing for Marissa or Mario, however. It runs in her family.
Marissa’s father, who moved at a young age to the U.S. from Sicily — birthplace of the cannoli — started several restaurants, where Marissa worked and lived most of her early life. Mario was a part of her life then, too, as the now-married couple met in elementary school, worked in pizzerias together and, before starting Holy City Cannoli, worked in “the corporate world” for seven years before making a change.
“We wanted to do something on our own together and start our own business,” said Marissa.
The decision to move and start a business was planned, as Marissa’s family has the same type of cannoli business up North and the couple wanted to bring it to their new home.
Now for those who don’t know what a cannoli is, it’s a fried, tube-shaped cinnamon-flavored shell, stuffed with a ricotta cheese-based filling, with optional toppings. Common flavors include vanilla and chocolate.
“Talking to people down here,” said Mario. “Everyone’s just used to those one or two flavors and it’s good, but it’s not what we’re providing.”
Holy City Cannoli prides itself on its specialty flavors – like cookies and cream, Nutella and birthday cake, “which a lot of kids love because of the sprinkles on the end” – and a rotating menu of seasonal flavors.
Currently, for their fall flavors, Holy City has pumpkin and caramel apple. And over the winter, look for flavors like mint chocolate chip and tiramisu.
All the fillings and shells are handmade by the couple. Batches are made and prepared in a commissary kitchen, put into pastry bags and piped fresh to order into shells.
While waiting for their custom-built trailer – designed by Marissa and assembled by Gorilla Fabrication in North Charleston – the couple started doing pop-ups. Now, after three and a half months, the trailer was built, and Holy City Cannoli was ready for the road. Literally.
The trailer —and the couple — can be found around town two to three nights a week, slinging cannoli all evening with a smile.
“I love the fast pace of it,” said Mario. “Just seeing people’s faces and listening to them while we’re making it, because they’re able to watch us do it, it’s great.”
“At a lot of food trucks, you don’t really get to see in there, but with the way [Marissa] designed the trailer, you’re able to watch the whole process. It’s entertaining.”
The food truck was designed and “built around” a large island at the service window for Marissa and Mario to fresh-fill the cannoli in front of the customers.
“I think it’s important for customers to see the food prepared,” Marissa said. “It’s kind of tough when you go somewhere and all of the workers’ backs are turned toward the customer – you don’t really get to interact with them.”
As for being “built around,” the trailer was made with enough space and equipment to accommodate long nights and large crowds or events.
“One of the things we pride ourselves on is that 99% of the time, we will never run out of product. And that’s really important, especially for the people who are traveling 45 minutes to an hour to try our desserts. We wanted to make sure we have everything to prepare for that.”
“Going to different communities, I think, is one of our favorite things, because people are excited – you bring that food to them, and they don’t really have to leave their home to get a nice dinner and dessert.”