Even in business, opposites can attract

Danielle Marinelli opened her first Sweet Pea ice cream shop next to her husband's pretzel store.
Danielle Marinelli opened her first Sweet Pea ice cream shop next to her husband's pretzel store. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: December 24, 2013

Talk about a perfect union. Not Vince and Danielle Marinelli's 16-year marriage, which evidently is a good one. I'm talking gastronomically - about the exquisite salty-and-sweet blending of their entrepreneurial passions.

His is soft pretzels, ever since he was a fifth-grader at the former Holy Child School in North Philadelphia in charge of distributing to the classrooms the daily delivery of fresh-baked doughy twists.

Hers is ice cream, a love affair that blossomed throughout her childhood in Churchville, living what proved irresistibly close to the Tanner Bros. Dairy Farm and Danielle McGettigan's favorite flavor there: cookies and cream.

Their snack-food indulgences came together in wedded business bliss long after the couple had tied the matrimonial knot.

It was 2010 and Sweet Pea, a homemade ice cream shop the Marinellis opened in Newtown in 2008 to immediate crowds, had expanded to Doylestown, where they live. Run by Danielle - whom her husband nicknamed Sweet Pea early in their relationship - the ice cream shop opened on State Street adjacent to the soft pretzel store, where Vince started his A Taste of Philly chain in 2000.

The couple created a pass-through between the stores to encourage a symbiotic dining experience. Any serious ice cream eater knows the craving after a cone - or bowl - of the frozen stuff is for salt.

A Taste of Philly/Sweet Pea Ice Cream was an instant hit, the Marinellis said.

In response to customer demand, in summer 2011, they started taking their offerings on the road with a vintage-looking, eco-friendly electric-powered cart that holds 14 2.5-gallon buckets of ice cream and that has a pretzel warmer on the back.

By March, the Marinellis expect to have a couple of Sweet Pea's Green Machine franchises rolling in Florida, selling Danielle's creamy, frozen creations, made at a plant currently under construction in Boynton Beach. The franchises cost $75,000 to $85,000.

"I hope this turns into something big - Jack & Jill big," said Danielle, who worked as a registered nurse before switching to the world of 14 percent buttermilk. "I hope to have a couple production facilities along the East Coast."

Unlike the cart that travels to parks, ball fields, schools, and pools around central Bucks County, the Florida ones - and those expected to follow in the Carolinas and Georgia - won't be dispensing pretzels. That's largely in consideration of franchisees, Danielle said.

"Pretzel production is not easy," she said. "You want this to be an easy business for them."

About that pretzel business.

After Holy Child and Bensalem High School, Vince Marinelli, 46, spent 15 years as an electrician before returning to his first, oven-baked love. He operated a wholesale pretzel distributorship until learning the owner of the Taste of Philly pretzel plant in Steelton, Dauphin County - yes, 100 miles away from its namesake city - was getting out of the business and selling his equipment. Vince Marinelli said he consummated a deal in a day.

After the Doylestown shop, he opened a few more in the region, before he started selling franchises of A Taste of Philly in 2005. The company has grown to more than 20 outlets. Marinelli, who was handling everything from finding locations, negotiating leases, overseeing construction, and training franchisees in pretzel-making, was stretched thin. Too stretched to add more sites.

But not too thin to help his wife start an ice cream business. Then, a little less than a year ago, Dan DiZio, a competitor - and friend from Bensalem High School - urged Marinelli to consider merging.

DiZio is a founder of Philly Pretzel Factory, established in 1998 and now numbering 131 stores - and growing - in nine states from Florida to New York. Marinelli agreed to the collaboration, renaming his personally owned shops in Doylestown and Souderton Philly Pretzel Factories.

Vince Marinelli went to work for DiZio to help him on a promising expansion: into Wal-Mart stores. Twenty-five have been added in the last year, from Florida to Pennsylvania, with 100 more planned in 2014, DiZio said.

Philly Pretzel Factory is premised on a core belief, DiZio said: "The simplicity of the model. That's what scares me about adding items: Does it take away from what we are about - hot, fresh pretzels?"

So whether Philly Pretzel Factory's golden gems wind up on every Sweet Pea vending cart, or Danielle Marinelli's ice cream is in Philly Pretzel Factory stores, is a matter for further study, DiZio said.

"There's some potential there," he said. "We're going to see how it goes."

Philly Pretzel Factory has taken a baby step in that direction, recently launching a pilot venture in the Montgomery Mall: A shop selling its pretzels and Rita's brand Italian ices.

"There's a synergy there," DiZio said.

It's that sweet and salty thing.

At Sweet Pea, Sweet & Salty - a vanilla-based ice cream with a peanut butter ribbon and pieces of chocolate-covered pretzels - is a top seller.


BY THE NUMBERS

8

Minutes to bake a Philly Pretzel Factory pretzel.

145

Calories in a salted Philly Pretzel Factory pretzel.

1,000

Gallons of Sweet Pea ice cream made

in 2013.

40+

Sweet Pea flavors.


dmastrull@phillynews.com

215-854-2466 @dmastrull

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