(Updated at 9:05 a.m. on 9/23/2021) Nicole Liberatore has come a long way from handing cannoli to customers in a parking lot.
Less than two years after they started selling traditional Italian baked goods out of their Annandale home, Liberatore and her husband Dominick have turned their Bisnonna Bakeshop into a brick-and-mortar store at Tysons Corner Center, which welcomed its new arrival on Saturday (Sept. 18) with much fanfare.
“This has definitely been a real Cinderella story for us,” Liberatore told Tysons Reporter while piping creamy ricotta cheese filling into tubes of fried pastry dough.
The fairy godmother came in the form of Tysons Corner Center’s first-ever DreamStart competition, a “Shark Tank”-style contest where entrepreneurs pitched a product, service, or business concept for the opportunity to get three months of free rent at the mall, among other prizes.
Tysons Corner Center launched the competition in May with the dual goal of supporting local businesses and attracting new tenants to fill its vacant spaces, including the corner spot across from Barnes & Noble that Bisnonna has taken over from the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant.
While the 53-year-old shopping center has been insulated from some of COVID-19’s effects, the past year has still required a whirlwind of adjustments, as the pandemic accelerated some trends, like the shift to online shopping, that were already challenging traditional retailers and the malls that relied on them.
“Everybody’s been affected in different ways, so it’s all about being nimble and making sure we’re able to adapt not just to the pandemic, but all the things that change in the retail industry,” Tysons Corner Center Senior Manager of Business Development Services Becca Willcox said.
After the competition’s 21 applicants were whittled down to nine finalists, Bisnonna was named the grand prize winner on Aug. 11. The runners-up were fashion boutique Garçon Melanie, which opened on Aug. 28, and The Popcorn Bag DC, which is still in the works.
Willcox says the winners stood out as much for the narratives that their owners told as the products they sell. The property team from Macerich, which owns Tysons Corner Center, was especially drawn to Liberatore’s story of starting Bisnonna with recipes passed down from her and her husband’s grandparents.
“The family roots that they have…the way they take a traditional Italian pastry and infuse the cultures that are prominent here in the Northern Virginia area really stood out to us,” Willcox said. “It made us see that there was a big hole in what we offered here in Tysons and an opportunity to be able to really connect with the community through delicious food and product.”
Though she grew up in Maryland, Liberatore’s family comes from New Jersey. She met Dominick, a Jersey Shore native, while attending George Mason University and began learning to bake biscotti, pizzelle, and other traditional Italian desserts from his grandmother, a first-generation Italian American.
Since they had no formal chef training, Liberatore says it took years for the couple to get to the point where they could turn their hobby into a full-fledged business. But once Bisnonna started in the fall of 2018, it amassed a loyal following, as evidenced by the steady line of customers who cleaned out the bakery within four hours of its 10 a.m. opening on Saturday.
In fact, Tysons Corner Center says the initial turnout was so strong that the bakery has temporarily adjusted its operating hours to Thursdays through Sundays to give the team more time to make enough food to meet the demand. They are also upgrading the kitchen, so Bisnonna won’t be open again until Sept. 30, according to its website.
The shop will be open during mall hours from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday through Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday.
Bisnonna’s pastries are all hand-crafted, including its signature cannoli, so going from a home-based business that required pre-orders to a physical storefront brought both complications and rewards.
“We wanted to give people that quintessential Italian pastry shop experience, where they can come in, see a big, beautiful display case full of stuff,” Liberatore said. “…We weren’t able to do that before in the house, because we were making everything to order for each specific customer. So, now being able to provide people with more options is really exciting, but definitely a steep learning curve for us.”
Liberatore says it has been “super helpful” to work with Tysons Corner Center, which organized the grand opening event and provided marketing support in addition to the three months of free rent.
Greeted by a panel adorned with Liberatore’s family photos and a poster bearing a fitting quote from “The Godfather,” patrons could sit down at cafe-style tables to eat or get their first bite of a cannoli captured for social media via a “Crunch Cam.”
While she’d hoped the pandemic would have subsided by the time the shop opened, Liberatore credited Bisnonna’s customers for keeping the business afloat over the past year, and she was excited to interact with them more after being previously limited to those parking lot hand-offs.
“We are really excited about that, kind of the face-to-face that we’ve been missing,” she said. “Our customers have been so supportive of the journey…and we’re just really thrilled to be able to see them in person.”
Students at West Potomac High School walked out in September to protest Virginia’s proposed policies on the treatment of transgender students (photo courtesy of Mara Surovell) The Virginia Department of…
A woman holds up a piece of handmade decor at the 2021 McLean Holiday Art and Crafts Festival (courtesy MCC) The McLean Holiday Art and Crafts Festival will hit the…
Laura Schwartz is a licensed Realtor in VA, D.C. and MD with McEnearney Associates in Vienna. You can follow Laura on Instagram at @LauraSchwartzRealtor or her Facebook page. Laura can be reached at 703-283-6120 or [email protected] Since…
The office building at 11091 Sunset Hills Road in Reston (via Google Maps) A solar and roofing company is moving its location in McLean to Reston — a $350,000 relocation…
Chris Green is one of the DMV’s finest fitness instructors. A Lululemon and South Block ambassador, he is a coach and mentor to so many. He embodies grace, positivity and motivation in ways that no one else can. If we could all learn a thing or two from him, the world would be a much better place. He does so much for others, and does so with a smile on his face 99% of the time.
He recently ruptured his Achilles and has an incredibly long and tough journey ahead. As if COVID hadn’t impacted fitness professionals enough, throw this in the mix and it’s a double, even triple whammy. CG is no longer able to work and do what he loves for the time being because of this and we’d love your support.
The Rhea Baker State Farm Agency is proud to support Shelter House in providing safe places to be during quarantine. Shelter House’s mission is to prevent and end homelessness and domestic violence. Right now they are providing over 200 hotel rooms to those in need in our community. In the past year, across all programs, Shelter House served nearly 500 households comprised of over 1,500 individuals, 60% of which were children.
Of the households that exited shelter, over 70% moved to permanent housing. The Baker Agency has served Vienna and Tysons residents and business owners since 2007 and proudly offers insurance solutions for you home, condo, auto insurance, life insurance and more. We offer complimentary reviews and coach teen drivers to safer, better drivers, and to help keep your auto insurance rates down! We are always happy to talk or text at 703-847-6880.