For Derry macaron maker, c'est si bon
DERRY - The demand for Nina DiBona-Pauk's handmade macarons is outpacing her ability to produce the French cookies, and while running a mixer with one hand, she's drafting a plan for expansion with the other.
DiBona-Pauk is the owner of Moochie's Macarons, a light, crispy sandwich cookie that comes in bright colors and a variety of flavors such as lemon. (Macarons are often confused with American macaroons, which are made of shredded coconut).
In her 1,500-square-foot kitchen, DiBona-Pauk is baking 1,600 shells - enough to make 800 sandwich cookies, in a convection oven. She uses a stand mixer to create her specialty fillings using local fruit, honey and other ingredients, and she puts all the cookies together by hand. If her husband, a dentist, isn't working, he'll pitch in and help with deliveries to cafes and specialty food shops in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, but DiBona-Pauk is doing it all.
"Since I am the sole employee, I wear all of the hats of business," she said. "When I am not baking, I am busy marketing, bookkeeping, counting inventory, delivering, participating in farmer's markets, pop-up shops and in-store samplings. I would ballpark that I spend at least 50 hours per week doing tangible work for Moochie's Macarons. If you asked my husband, he would probably tell you I spend the other 118 hours finding any way possible to talk about all things macarons related."
But stores that carry her cookies are selling out as soon as they come in, and some shops have resorted to establishing waiting lists for the cookies.
"Once people try them. they come back for more," said Lori Gagne Shaefer, owner of Pairings Wine and Food in Winchester, Mass. "I have one customer who tried them and came back the next day and bought four more boxes."
Shaefer, who grew up on Manchester's West Side, said she's also a fan of Moochie's.
"I personally love them because they are the closest to those I've had in Paris," she said.
Jessica Ann dePontbriand, who recently opened JaJa Belle's Pastry and Coffee Shop in Nashua, said she's also struggling to keep the macarons on her shelves.
"I just started carrying Nina's cookies in the last two weeks," said dePontbriand. "They are a great hit."
DiBona-Pauk said keeping up with demand is going to mean expansion sooner rather than later, but doing so is going to be a balancing act.
"Maintaining quality will always be my first priority; I will never sacrifice quality for quantity," she said.
The first step DiBona-Pauk plans to take is to find someone to handle deliveries.
"Eliminating the 250-plus miles per week road time would take a lot off my plate, so a delivery person is at the top of the expansion agenda," she said. "Hiring a second pastry chef is also on the radar. A second set of hands in the kitchen would be invaluable."
In the meantime, DiBona-Pauk is trying to ensure that her celebrity dog, the namesake of her business, isn't losing sight of what's important.
"Moochie loves the fame," she said. "He tries not to let it go to his head, but he seems to have bit more swagger in his step knowing his business has been written about in the Union Leader and Sunday News."