By Rebecca Henely
Pat Pilla said the idea for her business, Chee’Bonnet, was an accident.
A lifelong baker, Pilla, who turns 58 this month, had been making a cheesecake for a wedding when one of the tiers did not come out to her satisfaction. Rather than throwing the tier away, she froze it and later rolled what was left into balls.
She eventually dipped these cheesecake balls in chocolate to make a sweet treat that resembled a bon bon or, as she calls it, a Chee’Bonnet.
“Instead of having a whole cheesecake that’s heavy-laden, they can have one of these without the guilt,” Pilla said.
Pilla, who lives in New Hyde Park and has a full-time job as a deputy clerk for a village in Great Neck, L.I., said she used to bake on the side for restaurants, but decided to stick with one product in opening her new business.
Working out of the food business incubator Entrepreneur Space, at 36-46 37th St. in Long Island City, she now sells 12-packs of full-sized Chee’Bonnets for $47.50 on her website at cheebonnet.com. She also sells smaller Chee’Bonnets to gourmet stores such as Kitchen Kabaret, in Glen Cove, L.I.
“I’m glad I made a treat that people are enjoying,” Pilla said.
The Chee’Bonnets are hand-dipped in dark, milk or white chocolate and then sprinkled with a topping such as icing, Oreo cookies, graham crackers, toasted coconut or toasted walnuts. Customers can specify if they do not want a topping or want a mix of flavors.
“However you want them, I can make them,” Pilla said.
The filling is a standard cheesecake, although Pilla has used special cheesecakes for holiday flavors such as pumpkin for Thanksgiving, eggnog for Christmas and red velvet for Valentine’s Day.
After using downtime from a shoulder surgery to get started on her business in October 2010, she opened April 1, 2011, and began her website in October 2011. She uses new media in promoting her business, holding contests on her website’s Facebook page as well as writing about running her business and posting recipes on her blog.
“I’ve been getting cool responses,” she said.
In addition to her supportive community online, she has also found one at the Entrepreneur Space. In addition to using the ovens, cold kitchen and mixer, she has also taken classes and learned how to market there.
At the incubator’s first birthday, she attracted interest from various businesses looking to sell her product such as a hotel, a catering business and a major supermarket.
“It’s not just going to a kitchen and cooking and then you leave,” she said of the incubator.
Pilla said she often works late into the night to get orders done after her full-time job, but she says she enjoys it.
“This is my passion,” Pilla said. “So it’s not like it’s work for me.”
To order, visit cheebonnet.com.
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4564.