Of all the chocolate-laden treats Larry Shiller remembers his mother making, her chocolate macaroons were his very favorite.
The hand-crafted, gluten-free macaroons, more recently, were a hit whenever Shiller made a batch to give as a gift or bring to a party.
People always asked where they could get them, Shiller said, and he often thought of producing them on a larger scale.
After Lilyan Bloom Shiller died last year at 98, he decided to honor his mother's memory by launching Minneapolis-based Lily Bloom's Kitchen and bringing her confections to market.
Shiller, 67, has endured the long hours, hard work and financial worries that come with starting a small company.
As a risk taker and veteran entrepreneur, Shiller faced the challenges with confidence.
"This is something I felt there was a place for, that was going to succeed," said Shiller. "It never occurred to me that it would fail. I knew that I was going to work at this and make it happen, because I knew that I had an outstanding product and that it had a place in the marketplace."
He began production last October. After an admittedly slim partial year in business, he projects revenue this year of $50,000 and double that next year.
Track record in business
Shiller first worked at Dayton's when he moved here from Florida in the late 1960s. But he soon found that "the corporate environment was not one that I was comfortable with."
He then worked as an independent sales rep for manufacturers in the fashion industry. He owned a small chain of women's clothing stores for 15 years and still runs an event-planning company, Day Tours & Creative Events, that he started in 1998.
Shiller rediscovered his mother's macaroon recipe in a box of recipes she had sent to his wife sometime after he moved to Minnesota.
After developing additional flavors and going into production, he now hopes to get national recognition and distribution for the macaroons. He envisions one day opening small Lily Bloom's Kitchen storefronts around the country.
His national aspirations could get a push Monday when his Lily Bloom's Kitchen macaroons are to be featured as the Snack of the Day on "The Rachael Ray Show." Shiller shipped 150 boxes of his macaroons overnight before the episode's taping in March.
Getting on the show was "surprisingly easy," Shiller said. He found a phone number on the show's website, then called and left messages about submitting samples for three weeks before connecting with the right person.
"She said, 'Oh sure, send them,'" Shiller said. "I sent the samples, called her two weeks later and she said they loved them and wanted them on the show. It was as simple as that. I'll just have to watch the show to see how [Ray] responds."
Ray will find, or should have, that each macaroon is made from all-natural ingredients, including imported Schokinag chocolate, flaked coconut and Gahara vanilla bean extract and, depending on the flavor, topped with a piece of fruit or a nut. The macaroons cost $12.95 to $14.95 a dozen.
Lily Bloom's Kitchen macaroons are available from the company's website and other online food shops and at shops such as Golden Fig in St. Paul, Kowalski's Markets on Grand Avenue in St. Paul and in Woodbury and Byerly's in St. Louis Park. He also has been selling the macaroons at farmers markets in Maple Grove, Bloomington, Minnetonka and northeast Minneapolis.
The Dunn Bros Coffee shop in Roseville carries a 2-ounce, individually packaged macaroon, Shiller said. He also has developed a macaroon on a stick, dubbed a "pop-a-roon," that has been popular with caterers.
Hope for expansion
Shiller anticipates expanding production and hiring full-time employees if the macaroons prove as popular as he believes they will. For now, he rents a commercial kitchen and employs a part-time pastry chef and additional part-time help as needed.
Golden Fig owner Laurie McCann Crowell said customers are disappointed if they visit her store between deliveries of Lily Bloom's Kitchen macaroons.
They are really good macaroons," Crowell said. "They have a good flavor to them, a little chocolate and a little sweet. I love the orange. One little macaroon is a perfect dessert with a glass of wine."
Terri Bennis, vice president of fresh food operations at Kowalski's, said the Lily Bloom's Kitchen macaroons got her attention because of their high-quality, all-natural ingredients and the fact that they are locally made and gluten free.
"With his passion and enthusiasm for his product, you can tell this is very near and dear to his heart," Bennis said. "This product is a tribute to his mother, and that is very touching."
The expert says:
Anita Nelson, president and owner of IN Food Marketing & Design, said Lily Bloom's Kitchen appears to have "all the ingredients for success."
Because of its high-quality ingredients, local production and gluten-free products, the company appears to have great potential to grow quickly through word of mouth alone, said Nelson, who specializes in branding and marketing of food products.
"The challenge for [Lily Bloom's Kitchen] will be to manage growth wisely so that quality remains consistent, relationships with retailers are kept strong and they don't lose the essence of what has made them successful so far."
Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.