Only company east of Alberta to earn spot in prestigious accelerator
PICCOLA CUCINA ready for next step
By Tony Zerucha, Winnipeg Free Press
Anita and Pina Romolo (photo) are preparing to meet a dragon and they’re not the least bit afraid.
The mother and daughter duo, founders of Italian gourmet products company Piccola Cucina, have been accepted into District Ventures, a business accelerator founded by former Dragons’ Den star Arlene Dickinson.
Business accelerators teach entrepreneurs the important steps of properly running a business, including marketing, distribution and how to present to investors. They also introduce those entrepreneurs to experts in their fields, some of whom become mentors.
Piccola Cucina, which formerly saw its products produced in a kitchen near East St. Paul, had to outshine plenty of competitors to earn one of the 12 spots, Pina Romolo said.
“We were the only company east of Alberta to be accepted.”
That was out of 700 applicants.
Romolo said she and her mother started Piccola Cucina in 2009 with one line of biscotti made from a family recipe. At the time she was living in Calgary and handling marketing and distribution while her mother concentrated on producing the biscotti in Winnipeg.
Piccola Cucina started taking off, so to make things easier, Romolo moved back to Winnipeg.
The Romolos began adding different products, eventually growing to six different flavors of macaroons, including chocolate, pistachio, and maple walnut, the latter a nod to their shared Italian and Canadian heritage. They also produce pie and tart shells, baking mixes and gift packages.
“We’ve done a good job of blending Italian know-how and creativity with Canadian influences,” Romolo, said, while adding her almond-based products are all gluten-free and made solely with natural products.
Consumers are becoming more educated about what they eat and are looking for products made from healthier ingredients, Romolo explained.
“That issue is more front and centre now. People want to take it back to the basics with their food.
“That’s how our grandparents and parents ate.”
Working with a close relative has its challenges, Romolo admitted, but it helps to stay focused on a shared goal.
“You experience the good, and bad, love and frustration, all the things you can imagine. But we’re always business-first and the decisions we make are centred around making the business better.”
Piccola Cucina began taking off two years ago when the Romolos made a difficult decision, Pina explained.
“We were starting to grow and see things changing. Two years ago we decided to move into our own commercial kitchen facility on Keewatin Avenue.
“When we moved from someone else’s place into our own things changed, and we felt it was time to take things to the next level.”
Romolo said she looks forward to making contacts and receiving mentorship from people who have experienced what she is going through and who have grown their own businesses in unique ways.
“Entrepreneurship can be a lonely place. Entrepreneurs need people around them who understand. Sometimes only other entrepreneurs can understand what you are going through.”
While Romolo said she has not personally experienced bias as a woman business owner, she said juggling her roles as entrepreneur and a mother of children ages five and three does have its challenges.
“I’m always having to justify being both. Arlene Dickinson talked about it too. When her children were young they spent plenty of time around her at work.
“Playing among the storage carts was just play time.”
Romolo’s children spend time with her at work and get to know the staff, much like she did at her parents’ restaurant when she was their age.
“The kids come to the kitchen. Hopefully this will be theirs some day.”
For more information on Piccola Cucina visit www.piccolacucina.ca.