Students who study abroad often distill lasting insights. The experience inspired distilling of a different sort for Phil Mastroianni ’05 (far left) and Brett Bell ’05, who have launched their own brand of a traditional Italian liqueur.
The two former Accountancy majors, friends since day one at Bentley, studied in Florence, Italy, during their junior year.
“We fell in love with the place,” Bell recalls. Between studies they traveled widely, including to the village of Platania in the country’s Calabria region, where Mastroianni’s grandparents grew up and many relatives remain. Sampling limoncello – an after-dinner digestivo with many local variations – became something of an avocation.
Even after the two graduated and took accounting jobs at KPMG, the lure of Italian culture, and limoncello, stayed strong. On a return trip to the country in 2007, Mastroianni obtained a family recipe, and he and Bell began to distill small batches of the spirit, for fun and family gifts. An uncle offered a review (“best limoncello I ever had”) and prodded the pair to turn the hobby into a business.
The entrepreneurs set to work: peeling hundreds of lemons that hail mostly from California and Arizona, settling the rinds into grain alcohol for several months, straining the mixture, and adding sugar syrup. The result is a refined, sweet liqueur with a zesty nose and soft finish (yes, your correspondent did check).
“We do everything by hand, right down to the bottling,” explains Bell, noting that much imported limoncello involves machinery, yellow dyes, and long shipping times. On a typical distilling day, production partner Bell joins a 10-member work team to peel 1,700 to 2,000 lemons (only the rinds are used; when possible, pulp and juice are donated to restaurants).
Mastroianni handles operations and marketing. Early on, he hit the road to sell the liqueur directly to restaurants and liquor stores throughout New England. Merchants liked the personal approach and affordable pricing; customers embraced the great flavor and local business angle.
By late 2009, Fabrizia Limoncello was available in more than 200 outlets, including the all-important venue of New Hampshire state liquor stores. New products in the Granite State undergo a rigorous test for viability after six months; Fabrizia hit its numbers in just four.
The partners are moving aggressively to expand their market, while hewing to traditional production methods and to the business discipline learned at Bentley. As Bell observes: “We always stress quality and a level of professionalism that, we hope, makes customers like us and like our product.”