Dolce Patisserie Offers More Than Just Exceptional Chocolate
Local Pastry Chef and Owner Alan Pitotti Has Earned Rave Reviews
Practice makes perfect, and in Chef Alan Pitotti's case, practice has certainly paid off. In fact, many say the result is perfection.
Pitotti is the owner and pastry chef at Hellertown's Dolce Patisserie, a boutique chocolate and pastry business located at the south end of town.
As a young boy growing up in Pen Argyl, Pitotti would often stand by his mother's side to assist her with her kitchen duties. "I'd much rather help mom with dinner than do my homework," Pitotti joked. His mother, Annette Pittoti, has always been his inspiration.
When the time came to decide what to do with his life, Pitotti says he knew he wanted to do "something" culinary. He attended Northampton Community College's Culinary Arts Program to start. While there, he learned all of the "nuts and bolts" aspects of the culinary arts.
Pitotti furthered his training at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, where he studied the baking and pastry arts exclusively. After graduating in 1998, he was fortunate to land a position at the Hotel Hershey in central Pennsylvania, which is well known for its chocolate-based desserts.
Pitotti says his work at the hotel provided him with an amazing foundation for his career, since Hershey is world famous for chocolate.
Still, he knew he needed to expand his experience and widen his horizons.
"I drove to Philly with resumes, a shirt and tie, and pounded the pavement," he reminisced.
One of his stops was the famous Le Bec-Fin restaurant, where he met renowned founder and owner, Chef Georges Perrier. After several days of working interviews, in which Pitotti had to prove his hands-on skills, he was offered a position at the center city establishment once described by Esquire magazine as the best French restaurant in America.
"I learned a ton, because in that environment you either sink or swim," Pitotti recalled.
Following his time at Le Bec-Fin, he moved to southwest Florida to work with one of the Ritz-Carlton's well-known pastry chefs, adding even more experience to his resume in the process.
When asked to what he attributes his success, Pitotti cited "a lot of sacrifice, like waving goodbye to my buddies when they'd go out on Fridays and Saturdays. I've been very fortunate and have worked very hard to be where I am today."
After several years of working in already-established restaurants, Pitotti felt prepared to branch out on his own. Hellertown was on his radar as he scouted for locations because of its central location and "quaintness," he said.
"A lot of people live in this area that have relocated from major cities like Philly and New York. Those people have an awareness of the product. They also have an appreciation for what it may cost," observed Pitotti. The Promenade Shops at Saucon Valley, just eight minutes away from Dolce, also attract customers who may travel for the day from those cities to do their shopping.
Now, in the midst of his third holiday season, Pitotti said he is very happy with his location in the Shoppes at Hellertown shopping center.
Pitotti is the only official employee on the books, which means he's often working 80 hours or more each week during December. His girlfriend, Trish Leyfert, assists when possible.
Regular customers usually make the majority of purchases at Dolce, but as the holidays approach, Pitotti says he sees an increase in corporate sales as well. For instance, a local company wanted to give boxes of his chocolates rather than gifts purchased at a retail chain. Some customers use the boxes of chocolate as hostess gifts if they don't want to bring wine to a party.
A repeat customer, Toni Burke of Hellertown, is one of them.
"Dolce is more than just delicious chocolate--they're pieces of artwork," Burke said. "And (because of) how they're presented in their lovely little boxes, these chocolates make a perfect hostess gift."
Special orders are very popular at this time of year, especially the tiered boxes of chocolate Dolce sells. During the holidays, Pitotti adds several specialty flavors to his standard lineup, including peppermint, dark chocolate with fresh ginger, pumpkin spice and sugar cookie. An eggnog confection is cast with white chocolate and then hand-painted green and red.
Pitotti also offers packaged items such as holiday chocolate bark, which consists of layers of dark and white chocolate with crushed peppermint candies inside.
"They make great stocking stuffers," he noted.
One of Pitotti's favorite pastry selections is the 'Bouche de Noel,' which consists of delicate layers of chocolate cake, chocolate mousse and vanilla bean crème brulee with fresh raspberries, tastefully decorated with handmade chocolate to represent the holidays.
A new item unveiled for Thanksgiving and available through Christmas is similar to the Bouche de Noel, except the layers of chocolate are replaced with layers of pumpkin spice cake and cream cheese mousse.
This led Pitotti to describe it as a "new age pumpkin roll."
According to Pitotti, Dolce Patisserie really has no direct competition, since it's a purveyor of both fine chocolate and pastries.
When referring to his products, he stated, "You taste the flavor, not the sugar. If it's a lemon tart, you taste the lemon. You don't taste sugar first." He's proud of that fact and has received many compliments to that regard, he said.
The economy has definitely had an impact on Dolce's sales, Pitotti observed, but added he's hopeful that things will improve.
"The person who likes Lucky brand jeans might not buy the jeans (and instead) just get the t-shirt," he commented. "Customers still come in. They just don't buy as much."
Regardless of lower-than-average sales, Dolce Patisserie is sustaining itself.
Pitotti strives to stay involved with fundraising events each year. Last year he participated in the American Cancer Association Benefit at Lehigh Country Club. He also participated with the Promenade Shops restaurant Melt to execute a "chocolate and vodka" event at the end of February last year.
He said he has a solid relationship with Melt and was invited to join them at his favorite event, "Taste of the Lehigh Valley," which benefits "Pennsylvania: Buy Fresh Buy Local," an organization that helps pump money back into local farms.
"Taste of the Lehigh Valley is a pretty big deal," Pitotti said. "It's a great way for people to taste the product, meet the product and meet what's behind the product, and it's far more effective than some advertising can be."
"People in the Lehigh Valley over the past six years seem to have really expanded their knowledge of food in general," Pitotti observed. "They appreciate the reason as to why some things cost more than others. With Emeril's Chop House and places like Bolete, Savory Grill and (the) Farmhouse, they are becoming more educated in fine dining."
Pitotti's Dolce Patisserie can easily be added to the list of exclusive dining establishments. Taste one of his chocolates and you'll see why.