When Marie Durante was just 5 years old, she said she remembers making and rolling traditional anise cookies with her grandmother Santa, a native of Sicily.
“Us kids would sprinkle the sprinkles on and frost,” she said with a smile.
Decades later, she and her own daughter Francesca would spend time in their Duxbury, MA kitchen crafting the traditional Italian delicacy, and now her 10-year-old granddaughter is a master of frosting, sprinkles and packaging.
“These are authentic, specialty cookies that have been around for four, almost five, generations,” Francesca Waddell said. “They’re different than anything else out there. The authenticity of the cookie stands by itself.”
Durante, 67, and Waddell, 46, are the mother-daughter duo behind the almost 3-year-old brand Marie’s Italian Cookies that has wormed its way into the hearts of those with a sweet tooth on the South Shore, the Cape and as far away as California.
Durante hand-makes every product – traditional anise cookies, lemon-dipped cookies and newly added biscotti – in a commercial kitchen in Randolph, and Waddell runs the website, social media and wholesale accounts.
Cookie-making has been a hobby of Durante’s for as long as she can remember, she said, and she used to make more than 600 cookies at home each holiday season for Waddell to divvy up to teachers, janitors, office workers and bus drivers at her Duxbury school. During the Christmas season of 2018, Durante looked at her daughter over countertops filled with cookies and said, “I love this. This is my passion.”
“I told her, ‘it’s never too late,’ ” Waddell said.
Things started small. The pair found every anise cookie they could on the South Shore and beyond, from small markets to specialty Italian grocery stores and even traditional bakeries in Boston’s North End.
“We went to the market and thought, ‘OK, what’s our competition? What other delicious, truly Italian cookies are out there? There really weren’t any,” Waddell said. “We tested all of these other cookies and there was just nothing like it. It made us want to share them even more.”
Durante started popping into small markets like Bongi’s Turkey Roost in Duxbury, Gerard Farm in Marshfield and the Fruit Center in Milton and Hingham, all of which were quick to put her products on the shelf.
She started baking out of the commercial kitchen and has since hired help. She has two part-time employees who each help her one day per week, and has outsourced part of the packaging process – sticking nutrition labels and logos onto bags – to people in Arc of the South Shore’s employment program.
These days, Durante’s Italian Cookies are sold in dozens of local stores and ship to wholesale customers in Maryland, Pennsylvania and California.
Over two days every week, Durante makes roughly 1,500 cookies using the same recipe Santa brought from Italy. She said customers are quick to tell her that the cookies bring back memories from their own Italian childhoods.
“It’s moist, the flavor isn’t too sweet,” she said. “It has a great balance to it.”
In addition to sales in local stores and some restaurants, Durante’s is working on building a website to sell directly to customers.
“We’re just riding the wave of this. The cookie world is a fun one to be in. It’s a really wonderful industry,” Waddell said. “People really enjoy feeling connected to what they’re buying and we want them to know where this came from. It came from something real and there is real passion behind this.”
Photos in this post were taken by the wonderfully talented Greg Derr. They were originally published in The Patriot Ledger.