Food lies at the heart of our bodies and our culture; it is there for celebrations and sustenance. NOMaste features a local fierce foodie each month, in four weekly segments. First, an interview, then a top 10 list, followed by a recipe to share, and finally a food review. This food corner will not just feature local chefs but also restaurateurs, buyers, suppliers — any woman involved in any aspect of the food chain, from farm to food truck. Join us each week as we get to know another Foodie in the city.
When Mallory Mendo shared a couple pictures of chocolate-covered strawberries on Facebook one night, no one could have predicted that, three years later, she would be running her own business doing just that.
Her friends liked the photo, and a few asked if she could make some for them. She happily said yes, eager to get more play time in the kitchen and give something special to a friend. With no formal training, and learning every single trick and step by herself, it took a while for Mallory to perfect each of her sweets. She got her footing and refined her technique over time, and with a lot of practice, it soon snowballed into other friends asking for treats. Then it was friends of friends, and so on. Word of mouth is how Mallory became Incredible Edibles, and the huge candy powerhouse she is today.
A friend of hers was getting her graphic design degree and wanted to expand her portfolio. She knew that Mallory was starting to make treats for friends, and asked if she could go ahead and make a logo for her. She came up with the name, Incredible Edibles, and the logo you see today. She even took it one step further, and made a Facebook business page for her. Thanks to this new page and logo by RMB Art & Design, Mallory started to get other orders from people a few more degrees of separation away from her. And so the business, now with a name, began to grow in earnest.
At first she produced most things at cost, charging for just her supplies, the time given freely with love. She was just a girl in her kitchen, not a legitimate business, so she wasn’t comfortable making money on this yet. But the momentum was there, and she was only able to do so much from home. In addition, she had a job and a son to raise, so the amount of time she could spend making treats for friends at no profit was limited. She was taking on more and more orders, but could not grow until she was legit.
At the time, she was working part-time at Belmont Housing Resources of WNY, where they host a small business fair every year. “So while I was at work, I decided to stop in. Some of the ladies knew what I did, so one of them suggested that I fill out the paperwork for this IDA that they were doing, which is a start-up program for businesses or expansion.” She took a chance, filled out the IDA grant paperwork (Individual Development & Account Program), and with the help from WEDI (Westminster Economic Development Initiative) wrote up a business plan to submit. Then she waited.
In the meantime, her father had purchased a building on the East Side that used to be an exterminator’s storefront. Being a contractor, at the time he thought it would be a good space to put an office in the front and use the bulk of the space for storage. Mallory took one look at this place and knew it would be a great place to start and become a real, legitimate business.
“When I came in and saw the storefront I just threw my ideas out there. ‘This would be a really good commercial kitchen,’ and ‘This would be a really good place for me to take the leap.’ He was kind of iffy, but I showed him that I was growing and could no longer do it from home. I had to be licensed — I can’t grow anymore until I am legit.”
After some convincing, her father agreed that she could rent out the space and rolled up his sleeves to help. It was a family affair – she, her brother, her fiancé, and her father and his crew got to work fixing up the place. After years of being abandoned it was a lot of work. While sitting empty, it had been broken into over the years, and walls were even ripped open to search for copper piping. But the mess was no deterrent, and after what felt like the longest year of her life, the space was finally ready.
But it wasn’t just the space that she needed to work on. She needed to navigate the bureaucracy of starting a new business. That meant getting blueprints, architects, insurance, health department inspections, plus a lot more. Every step of the way she had to find out the details, the cost, and come up with all the startup money herself. “I had to teach myself all the business aspects of it. I had to do a blueprint and lay everything out for the health department before they would even come in.”
But once she was stamped and approved she was finally open for business, but it would be a slow, steady word-of-mouth march to the success she is enjoying today. “I opened Valentine’s Day almost three years ago. When I opened, it was a completely empty shell. There was nothing in here but an empty shelf and one table for my pre-orders. When people came in it wasn’t like this.” You would not think that the shop would be that bare or empty when walking in now to pick up a box of chocolate-covered strawberries. There are shelves and tables, all lined with pretty glass jars, painted cake stands, and pictures adorning all the walls. In the back is a huge shelf covered in every shape and color sprinkle imaginable, and the kitchen is a bright white light bursting through some adorable curtains. The windows have a beautiful and cheerful Christmas display, complete with faux snow and glittery snowflakes.
Have you forgotten about that grant she applied for? She didn’t, either. But good things come to those who wait, and this was no exception. During this whole process, she was waiting to hear back on that — something that would be a huge weight lifted from her shoulders. “Once it was all finished and the Health Department came in and I was open for 4-5 months, that’s when the IDA came through.” With this shot in the arm, she was able to buy her sign out front, some fixtures for the shop, and work on her window displays.
Mallory started by only doing holiday orders — Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Mother’s Day being the bigger holidays for her wares. Now in three short years, she has quadrupled her clientele, and does orders all year long, from custom party favors and treats, to “I’m Sorry” gifts, to holiday spreads. She loves themes and being given the creativity to make something special and unique. She even has an edible printer, so she can put your logo on virtually anything from chocolate-covered Oreos to dipped strawberries. One of her favorites is doing Buffalo sports themes — anything you want, she can put the Bills or Sabres logo on it. Everything she does is fresh and made to order, so you never have to worry about how long something was sitting around like you would in a regular shop. If you ordered chocolate-covered strawberries, or chocolate-dipped raspberries, you can rest assured that they were made no sooner that the day before (or more likely the morning of!).
This is both a blessing and a curse. Since everything is made-to-order, she doesn’t have regular business hours, so you can’t just pop in and see what she has to offer. For that, you need to take a look at her Facebook business page, where she often has giveaways and prizes to win. There you can see a ton of images of her work, from Beauty and the Beast-themed strawberries, to Christmas-themed chocolate-covered pretzels and Rice Krispies treats. Because she only pre-orders she keeps her waste to an absolute minimum. She orders only what she needs, and that keeps her prices incredibly competitive. Without her being an order-only location, her prices would have to go up considerably. In the end, this benefits both her and her customers.
Her costs being so low doesn’t slow her down. She could easily have orders for up to 300 cheesecake-dipped strawberries for Valentine’s Day, which put her in the kitchen at around 6 a.m., and she stays until the wee hours in the night. Since she is going to a job she loves, she doesn’t want to hit the snooze in the morning — she’s ready and excited to come to work, and it shows, with the beautiful works of edible art she makes.
Being a pre-order-only shop, one might wonder how a business like that could turn into a giant one, with orders being done and delivered or picked up almost every day, with dozens upon dozens at each holiday? The quality. Almost all of her clients are word-of-mouth. If someone has a birthday and her treats are there, all those guests not only see the presentation but they taste the flavors and freshness — and now, she has more clients. Then they order for a party or celebration, and now THOSE people see her work and place orders. Have a delivery to an office for Valentine’s Day? Boom — that whole office now has her number. It sounds simple, and honestly — it is. When you have a product that basically sells itself, all it needs is to get out there. Now she makes gift baskets for anyone from judges, to people on the board of directors for some big local Buffalo businesses, to little kids’ birthday parties, to large weddings. The sky is the limit in terms of creativity or function.
For some of the bigger holidays, she hosts Stop-N-Shops, where her store has hours just like a regular store, and she has the shelves stocked. She is able to do this because there is such a big turnout and she sells out of everything. For Easter she even had the Easter Bunny, and kids could take their picture with him!
This season she is having a Stop-N-Shop Dec 18-23, from 12 until 7 p.m. each day. In addition to her wares, she will have some other vendors come and share her space. Treats she does not offer like cupcakes, cake pops, and cookies are available by Sugar Mouse Sweets. Custom gifts like wine glasses and ornaments are available by Kristas Kreations716. And of course, all of Mallory’s incredibly delectable goodies will be there for you to see in person.
“I would have never thought when I started doing it from home, making bougie strawberries, that three years from then, this is where I’d be. I was able to quit my job and do this full time.” One taste and you will understand how she got to be where she is now.
Photos by AlanAdetolArts, L.L.C. – Birdcage Studios – Buffalo, N.Y. 14213 –[email protected]
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