Why is Nicole Liberatore obsessed with cannoli? “Cannoli is that perfect combination of a crispy, crunchy shell and a smooth, creamy filling,” she says. “It’s really just the perfect bite.” And for the baker, who owns Bisnonna Bakeshop with her New Jersey-native husband, Dominick, that fixation has turned into a thriving business. Since late 2019, they’ve run Bisnonna (which means “great-grandmother” in Italian, a dedication to Nicole Liberatore’s own late bisnonna, Phyllis) out of their Annandale home, meeting customers in parking lots for deliveries. That setup is about to change. They’ll open their first storefront, inside Tysons Corner Center, in early September, says Nicole.
Bisnonna won the DreamStart Competition, a contest Tysons Corner Center hosted to help small businesses to open the store they’ve always dreamed of. “It’s something we never would have been able to do at this point in our business and in this market,” admits Liberatore. Runner-up Garcon Melanine (a hip children’s fashion brand), will also get a storefront. Second runner-up, The Popcorn Bag DC, will have a cart from which it will vend kernels in unusual flavors like Key lime pie and chicken and waffles.
Speaking of flavor, it’s one reason that fans have clamored for Bisnonna’s cannoli. Liberatore’s job in high school was at an ice cream shop and she says she developed her affection for bringing favorite food memories into dessert form there. Now, she and Dominick are inspired by both their travels and their dining in NoVA when creating flavors. For example, the popular Dubrovnik cannoli mixes the rosemary and rose jam that characterized a favorite vacation to Croatia. The Thai coffee cannoli, flavored with freshly ground cardamom, is a reminder of their honeymoon. Meanwhile, the black-sesame cannoli is inspired by their neighborhood meals in Annandale.
How will the offerings differ from the already stacked deck of cannoli Bisnonna has been offering? “We have always wanted to be just that old-school Italian pastry shop. You walk in and see these big pastry cases,” says Nicole. Yep, it turns out there’s more to life than fried dough and cream. “The thing that’s iconic is there’s a myriad of stuff,” she adds. And now they can offer just that. There will be 10 cannoli flavors, as well as biscotti, pizzelle, kolache, and even za’atar-flavored biscotti inspired by a trip to Palestine. For Italian-sweet lovers who have been stuck making trips to Jersey, this bakery will be a game changer. 1961 Chain Bridge Rd., Tysons Corner
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