Up Close and Personal: The Bakers
In this blog series, Up, Close and Personal, we’re answering some of – what I’m sure are – your most burning questions about places in Marion. This is the fifth blog of the series. (Look back at all the ones you missed for the CVB, Pricketts Fort, Marion County History and The Brewers!) Today, we’ll be taking an up, close and personal look at the bakers of Marion County to better understand – you guessed it- the pepperoni roll.
So, sticks or slices?
Gwen Hoffmaster, the owner of Noteworthy Sweets, uses slices. But that’s not what she grew up eating.
“I have been interested in cooking and baking since I was old enough to reach the counter at home,” she said, adding that home was in Mineral County.
She’d watch her grandmother, mother and neighbors cook and was under their feet most of the time, she added. And if no one was baking, she was watching Julia Child’s cooking shows on TV.
“It’s just something I’ve always loved to do, and it’s just been a passion of mine,” Gwen added.
After catering for her church and working at a local restaurant, she was offered the chance to start her own business, Noteworthy Sweets, which she did. But the pepperoni roll was not on the menu originally.
“We weren’t going to do it initially because there are establishments here in Fairmont that that’s their claim to fame. And I had no aspiration whatsoever to be in competition with anybody,” she explained.
Aside from that, she had only been introduced to the food when she moved to Marion. Eventually, however, she appealed to the masses.
Instead of using Italian bread, she uses the same bread as the (gigantic) rolls, making a gigantic pepperoni roll filled with slices. (The bread, she says, is what makes her different.) The roll is not a constant on the menu. Much like the other dishes, it’s served every two weeks or so.
So, sticks or slices?
Owner of Little Red Hen Bakery Emily Lewis uses neither. But just getting to make her first pepperoni roll was a journey in itself.
She grew up in Arizona where her love for baking began.
“I was probably about nine when I started to bake, to experiment bake. But when I was about four, there was a lady down the street that baked in her home. She made wedding cakes and birthday cakes and things like that … I would go to her house every day and just watch her do things and it must have fascinated me,” she said.
Later on, she got a law degree, practiced law, raised a family and switched careers – to farming. After working in each field for 15 years, she said she wanted a new adventure.
Still gardening, she took her produce to the farmers market until one week, she didn’t have much to bring. Improvising, she baked 11 loaves of bread (a regular habit she’s adopted after feeding five children). The bread sold out, so she started Little Red Hen Bakery (without the storefront).
“I was at the farmers market across the street, and this older gentleman walks up to me … and he goes, ‘Where’s your pepperoni roll?’ And I said, ‘I don’t make a pepperoni roll.’ I didn’t even know what a pepperoni roll was,” she said, adding that she had lived in Marion for seven years at that point.
So she called up her friends to find out what it was and how to make it, but no one could give her a straight answer. Sticks or slices? Sweet bread or plain?
“I called lots of different people to get their input and nobody could tell me. There was like no consensus on what a pepperoni roll is,” she said.
Relying almost solely on her baking instincts, she made one.
“From people who do eat them, this is what they love about them. It’s ends and pieces is what we end up buying. So we hand chop all of the pepperoni and we take some slices, we take some bigger pieces, too. So you get nice big chunks but then you get really fine pieces, too.
The answer to the age-old question of sticks or slices: chopped.
Although baking and eating them isn’t as much fun for her as puff pastries, she makes them for the people.
“The community expects me to have them, so I do. I respect them enough to give them what they’d like to have. I hope I do a good enough job that satisfies them. I think I do,” she added.
So, sticks or slices?
At Colasessano’s, it’s a bit more complicated than that. It’s sticks and instead of a roll, it’s a bun.
After a tumultuous journey through entrepreneurship, John and Carrie Menas bought Colasessano’s with the promise never to change the pizza or pepperoni bun recipes.
“When we bought (Colasessano’s), it was the big bun like you see now. And they always sliced it open and filled it with their sauce – they made their sauce. That’s what we have to make. And then, they always used Oliverio peppers – that’s all we’re allowed to use. And we have to use provolone cheese, 100 percent provolone,” she explained. The bun is toasted and served.
In part, due to the enduring recipe of the bun, the couple was able to expand in almost every way: hours, menu, location, mail orders, convenience stores.
“At both places, we wanted to incorporate some more Italian dishes. I mean you have to progress with time. If you don’t you’re going to be left in the dark,” she said, excluding the time-honored pizza and buns, of course.
As well, Colasessano’s now delivers their unbaked pepperoni rolls to convenience stores, making the quintessential Marion experience even more readily available. It’s even available across the states and around the world.
“We have a son that’s in the Army … We shipped them to Germany – and they weren’t guaranteed by any means – but he got the pizza and pepperoni rolls,” she said, adding that he confirmed they were safe and delicious.
The most tense and recent expansion came when the original Colasessano’s building was replaced with a newer restaurant.
“An older gentleman came in that always came in, and he said, ‘You know what? You did very well. I’m so happy. …You really brought the old and the new together.’ And he was very pleased,” Carrie said, agreeing that it was like a seal of approval.
Through all the baking, all the pepperoni and all the cultural significance, all three of the owners shared a love for the art and a love for the people.
“The people that you meet and that you learn about, and the people that come and just are really so enthusiastic and thrilled about what you’re doing. You know, they bring their family. You have people that come every week,” Carrie said of the best part of pepperoni roll entrepreneurship.
So which is it, stick or slice?