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It’s no secret that most people don’t like to see photos of themselves. (Especially candid ones!)
But most people do not have the unique situation that Nancy Monacelli has. The Walla Walla candy maker, who creates artisan toffees, brittles, chocolates, and snacks, needed an image for her packaging logo, and, in her own words,
“I couldn’t abide the thought of looking at my own face all day.”
So, she and her graphic designer put their heads together, and went looking for a suitable face.
“I told him I wanted an older, Italian-looking, ‘How you gonna get a wife; you’re so skinny,’ kind of woman,” Monacelli recalls.
“He found a public domain image and said he thought he had just the thing if I didn’t mind being associated with a perfect stranger. I told him, if she was perfect, what more could I want?”
So Nancy, as she is packaging up her many handcrafted treats for sale, does not have to face her face. And she can focus on what she really gets excited about: making candy using recipes that she has developed over decades.
“Basically, my business started as ‘the Christmas candy,” Monacelli explains.
“For years, I made baskets for family, friends, and co-workers, as well as to take to gatherings to donate to events. My kids told me for decades that I should ‘sell this stuff,’ so I finally listened to them.”
At the time, Monacelli was winding down a 30-plus-year career in general manufacturing, manufacturing software, and consulting, and she thought that candy making would be a pleasant diversion for her upcoming retirement. In 2017, less than four months after she made this decision, she was not only licensed and running, but well beyond the dabbling or hobby stage. She found herself with a business that was taking on a life — and a very robust and growing one — of its own.
“Basically,” Monacelli wryly observes, “I flunked retirement.”
Now, Monacelli spends her days at the Blue Mountain Station in Dayton, where she operates a commercial kitchen in back and retail store in front. Fridays and Saturdays from spring through fall, while husband Richard minds the candy shop, Nancy heads to the Walla Walla and Richland Farmers Markets. In the winter, she focuses on new product development. This is an endeavor that not only stretches creativity, but the waistband as well.
“I generally do new product development in the first quarter of the year, when things are slower, so I tend to gain weight after the holidays, unlike most folks,” Monacelli says.
“There is a fair amount of trial and error, as you might guess, and my family are my guinea pigs. They really like the batches that I declare to be failures!”
Through the years, Monacelli has developed an array of flavors, building upon the signature English toffee candy that led to her initial flunking of retirement. She has added to that Maple toffee, nine flavors of chocolate barks; two brittles; seven “enhanced” almond snacks, and BobPop, a sweet and salty popcorn treat, “with a zing.”
“For the popcorn snack, I did the R&D in my home kitchen and our dog, Bob, was the preferred guinea pig — he really likes the stuff. So, around the house, we started referring to it as BobPop.
“When I was satisfied with the recipe and ready to go into production, we tried and tried to come up with another name. Failing, we just left it at BobPop, the only product that is named after a pet!”
With each of her candy and snack products, Monacelli is adamant that the ingredients be “real.”
Keeping that in mind, she seeks out the best she can find, locally when she can. There are no artificial flavorings or ingredients.
“The decision to use real, high quality, fresh ingredients is consistent with our approach to food and life,” Monacelli says. “Our chocolates are dairy and soy free; all of our products are gluten free. We are very careful in our sourcing, and sensitive to dietary issues.”
In addition to selling her artisan candies through her retail site and the Farmers Markets, Monacelli offers her products at specialty shops from Chelan to Glacier National Park. She has participated in the Prosser Balloon Festival and Walla Walla Fairgrounds Enchanted Christmas Market, and looks to keep expanding, just . . . not the waistline.
So — what does Nancy, Mama Monacelli, really look like? That’s a mystery that is best solved when you meet her in person. But even if she doesn’t look like the woman on the package, she is, most definitely, Mama.
“The name was my daughter’s idea.
“I have five children, four step-children, a foster daughter, countless ‘spares,’ and now their children (12 and counting). So the ‘Mama’ moniker has been well used.”
Maybe, just maybe, Mama didn’t flunk retirement after all.
Mama Monacelli’s Candy is the featured Art Event from January 27 through February 22 at Wenaha Gallery. A large selection of chocolates, toffees, and BobPop, will be at the gallery. Samples will be available.
Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.