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Business Q&A: Montiones Biscotti

A bakery specializing in traditional and New England biscotti.

Montione's Bakery has been serving pastries in Massachusetts since 1988. In the early 90s it started selling its product in the North End in Boston. Today it ships its specialty twice-dipped biscotti nationwide. Montione's sells retail and wholesale and caters weddings and special events. Learn more about Montione's in this Q & A with owner Mary Montione. 

What is one thing people might not know about your business?
Most people do not know that we exist or what we have to offer. But when they find us, they like what they see and taste and tend to come back. See lots of delicious photos by entering link: http://www.montionesbiscotti.com/locations.html

How has the economy affected you in the past year?
We've been in business over 20 years, most of that time selling handmade biscotti to "wholesale" customers in over 12 traditional and New England flavors.  When we moved into the Norton neighborhood in 2008, local neighbors seemed very excited about the idea of a "neighborhood bakery." So we dedicated a space up front for a "fresh retail" bakery concept. In light of a changing economy, it's taken some trial and error to understand what customers were interested in purchasing. In addition, I've had to learn what retail is all about then share my time between both wholesale and retail. It has been challenging.

Our markets were actually redefined back in 2008 when we first purchased and moved into the building. It has pretty much stayed the same since then. We are high end, yet competitively priced. There is something for everyone. When customers come to us, they want something really delicious and it's a treat.  Then again, they might just want one of our bakery pizzas or party boxes for a meal or party. In any case, they'll choose to use their disposable income on our products for themselves, friends and family. After moving into the neighborhood in 2008, we tried operating during the week; however, it wasn't  busy enough.  Understandably, people go to work. So our drive-by traffic happens in the morning going to work, and at night going home. I could not be open during those times because I am getting my own children ready for school. And I did not have enough "retail" business to justify hiring someone to operate the store during the week. So I dedicate one day during the week (Saturdays) to "retail" and do it right. On week days I work on the biscotti wholesale business. We'll expand our hours according to demand. While many people are surprised when they first find us, they tend to return. That's a good sign and it's very encouraging. 

What is your busiest time of day and day of the week?
Everyday is busy in one way or another! For our "retail", we open Saturdays only, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. I wanted to differentiate ourselves with a "fresh bakery concept." I tell people, it may be only three hours, but it's three "really great, really fresh, really delicious hours! It's like a feast!" Sometimes we'll stay open longer...I'll never turn a customer away if they come to the door after closing! We're especially busy during the holidays. During the week, I'm working on the "wholesale biscotti" business, either in my office, baking or shipping biscotti, or on the road visiting customers. If I am in my office, I always open the door and sell biscotti and cannolli. I also take special orders.

What is your most popular item or service?
For "wholesale" it's biscotti (in over 12 traditional and New England flavors). "Retail" varies. Biscotti is always high on the list, but can be equally divided with cannolli, bread and cupcakes. For the holidays, biscotti gifts and Italian cookie trays are really popular. People get in holiday spirit with our seasonal favorites like Pumpkin Pecan, Snickerdoodle and Candy Cane (Chocolate Peppermint Crush) Biscotti.

What do you feel is a benefit about being a business in Norton?
FIRST: Our customers are great. From a "wholesale" point of view, everything operates smoothly and we bake and ship during the week. For "retail", we have regular customers who come in on Saturdays and even bring visiting family and friends. They seem to appreciate what we have to offer, and I appreciate this in return. It's always nice to learn about them and in fact, many customers have been in our building in the past when it operated as a business called "The Village" back in the 1960s-1970s. My best understanding is that "The Village" was a dance, bar and pub. It was a popular spot for locals on Friday and Saturday nights. We've heard many a lively story and fond memories about "The Village!" We're a family operation now and I'm hoping people will someday have the same nostalgic memories of us.

SECOND: Most customers have been very understanding with our irregular hours and patient while we fill orders. While our baked goods have always been delicious, I have to admit our "retail" hours have varied and are not the most convenient. We've gotten many second chances by "retail" customers who come back when we've been closed and I appreciate this so much. They are also patient, because we fill many of our pastries fresh when they are ordered. And while we may have some pizza strips ready to serve, our half and full sheets take about 30 minutes to bake because of our thick fluffy crust we make on premises. I do the best I can to please everyone. Most customers are wonderful.

THIRD. I feel our location is a benefit. The bakery is a short pleasant drive from my home in Mansfield (where I first started the business) and have lived with my family for over 20 years. We are located in what is known as the Barrowsville section of Norton. We are in a neighborhood and somewhat hidden. People sometimes have to work hard to find us which makes us a destination. The people in the neighborhood are very nice. Kids drive by on bikes. People go for walks or jogging. When new people hear about us thru word-of-mouth, they seek us out. One customer did a google search because her daughter is a student at Wheaton College and wanted one dozen cupcakes delivered to her for her birthday. There was one instance when someone told me they needed a treasure map to find us, but we were worth the search. We have customers who visit us yearly when they travel from Utah to Massachusetts transporting equipment to Boston for a theater company. So when people learn about us, I find they typically come back. Local people have said, "I live down the street" or "around the corner" so there are pockets of homes around us. Also, we are on a road used as a shortcut to 495 so people pass us coming up from Rehoboth and Rhode Island and people have stopped by in transit. Our retail area is neat and clean, not fancy. Our focus is our production, taste and freshness. We bake everything here. Our primary product is biscotti with additional carefully selected products that sell well and we can keep fresh. We plan to add charm to the outside as our time permits. We painted and installed flower boxes this past spring. We're hoping to get decorations in them for Thanksgiving or Christmas.  
FOURTH:  My employees are great.  We have seven part-time employees, four of whom are from Norton. Two women have been with me for over ten years.  I have an experienced pastry baker who has been with me for two years and is now studying to be a dietition. These people are like my second family. Then there are several high schools students who help with various baking tasks, customer service and cleaning. For many, it's their first job experience and they all take pride in doing their job well.

SUMMARY: All in all, we do our best to be the "neighborhood bakery" Norton can enjoy. I'd like to see the "retail" grow, but I've learned to embrace the moment. I try to listen closely to what our existing customers say, then adjust what we have to make it better. They feel our baked goods are worthy enough to use as business gifts, or for family and friends and it's such an honor. And I'm excited to say we are doing two local fundraisers in November so we're thrilled to be connecting with the community. It's very encouraging and I'm very thankful to the community because after moving the bakery three times in twenty years, we finally feel like we have a home.

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