For Gabriella Mannino Tomasello, cannolis are more than just a treat—they’re a connection to family and tradition.
Gabriella graduated from the Academy of Culinary Arts in Mays Landing in 2012, after spending years around her father, Vito Mannino, in his pizzerias and restaurants. Equipped with her background in pastry making and years of cannoli experience at her father’s restaurants, Gabriella went mobile when she started Mannino’s Cannoli Express, in 2014.
Gabriella shared her story with Jersey Bites.
JERSEY BITES: How did you get started?
GABRIELLA MANNINO TOMASELLO: My family has had a pizzeria and a restaurant since 1988, and I’ve always made the pastries and all the desserts for my father and the restaurant. [This] all started with the Hammonton Blueberry Festival in 2010. It was my idea to make a blueberry cannoli. I was a culinary student at the time, doing my volunteer work, and I went to the president of the chamber of commerce and I said, “We should do a blueberry cannoli.” The following year we started, and then in 2014 I decided to go mobile. I bought my first trailer, and it kind of took off from there. Now, every year, we’re pretty much known for the blueberry cannolis. Having the background of being Sicilian and having the restaurant helped.
How do you decide what works?
We did trial-and-error [with] a lot of things just to get a recipe down and see what flavors work. We’ve actually made savory cannolis as well. We’ve done a maple bourbon bacon cannoli. Our big time seller is our original chocolate chip, and we do get our shells imported from Sicily. During our trial-and-error process, we did try out a couple different companies for our cannoli shells, and it was just either they got too soggy or they just weren’t sweet enough. My dad actually opened a brick oven pizzeria in Pitman last year. He had to go over to Sicily to get a certain olive oil for his pizza dough, and while he was over there he discovered this company that makes cannoli shells. Now we’re probably getting over 25,000 a year from there, so we do get them imported. They are the best cannoli shells you will ever find, and that’s what we’re looking for.
How do you make your product?
Everything is homemade; they’re all my recipes. It’s all ricotta based. We don’t do any filler to cut it, no thickeners, no flour. We use a very high-grade cheese. It’s just, straight up, the Sicilian way. We make them a little cheesier than sweet because we are putting powdered sugar on top, so we like to complement the cannoli. We don’t like to over sweeten it, so we tend to do it the old-school way. And we make everything to order. Our big thing is we’re freshly filled. That’s the only product I want to put out.
What challenges have you faced?
The trial-and-error days were very hard. It probably took a good dozen times just to get my recipe straight. My whole thing is that it’s all family. My whole family works with me. It’s a good time and I like to make people smile through my product.
Tell us more about your ingredients.
We use Hammonton farmers for our blueberries. We also do a peach cannoli, so we use peach orchards in Hammonton. Come September and October, we do a pumpkin cannoli and caramel-apple cannoli. In December we do an egg nog cannoli. I like to keep it in the seasons.
Where are you located?
We’re out of Pitman, but we go all over. North Jersey, South Jersey, we even do events in Philadelphia and New York. I have four trailers, so we are expanding. Come September, we’ll actually be expanding down in Florida. We also have a huge following on social media and we do deliver, Monday through Friday. And if you can’t find me at a trailer, you can go into the pizzeria. The cannolis are made in-house as well.
We go through so many cannolis in the pizzeria. The love people have for the cannolis is crazy. It’s something so delicate. I’ve mastered my degree in it. I eat, sleep, live cannolis. It took me a good time to find the right shells, the way I wanted to make [them], what pairs with everything. It was a long time before I was able to completely master my recipe to match the cannoli shells. The way my following has grown is absolutely insane. These food truck festivals, people live for them. The best way to explain it is that everybody calls me the Cannoli Queen.
Do you have a favorite?
The birthday cake and blueberry cannolis are big sellers. Our original is always top notch. Then I would say birthday cake and blueberry are second and third. They go really well with red wine.
What else pairs well with a cannoli?
Espresso. We do make Sicilian espresso, freshly brewed at the trailers, as well. It’s a medium type of espresso. Very old school Sicilians eat their pastries in the morning or for a snack with their coffee or espresso. It’s a tradition. That’s what I want to do. I want to continue to bring the Sicilian tradition here.
What are your plans for the future?
I would like to add St. Joseph’s cakes to the menu, but don’t want to turn to zeppole or anything like that. We’re unique. I like to run a tight ship and keep it small. When you start having a crazy menu that’s when things go haywire. Our menu probably includes four to seven flavors, depending on the event. And hopefully in the future I can franchise this. Honestly, I’d like to see this go nationwide. We do ship our cannolis all over. We sell to a couple food trucks up in New York. We’re also in Rastelli Market.
Who has helped you in this process?
My dad and I are pretty much the masterminds behind all of this. He told me to go mobile. He just had a brick oven pizza trailer built, so he’s on the road with me now.
What other NJ food trucks do you like?
I am a member of the New Jersey Food Truck Association, so we are like a little family. My favorite is probably Top Shelf Mobile Cuisine. They’re located out of Vineland. The menu is top notch. It has filet mignon sandwiches and scallop sliders—stuff you would never see on a regular food truck. Another one I would say is Not Your Mama’s Tacos.
Have you had any memorable moments in your truck?
One time somebody came up and asked for peanuts instead of cannolis. They thought I was a peanut truck. That was funny. I also have people, all the time, ask me what a cannoli is.
by Andrew Blustein