A personal tragedy prompted a Bella Vista resident to develop a line of liqueurs.
Joan Verratti possesses such a lively personality that someone would certainly enjoy a few laughs over drinks with her. If the 59-year-old were choosing the libations, only her beloved limoncello and the other equally sweet options at Pollyodd Fine Liqueurs, 1908 E. Passyunk Ave., would win favor. The co-proprietor has called on the month-old establishment to rejuvenate her ambition, which her only child’s death 16 years ago had exhausted.
“Europeans like their limoncello bitter, even sour, but I put my sweet take on it because I am trying to please the American palate,” the resident of Ninth and Christian streets said. “The whole process of arriving at this moment where I can call myself a business owner has involved years of stress, but I’m all in and want to get this place on the map.”
Owing to her loving nature, the gregarious seller sees her business as more than an opportunity to make money, believing making friends and a difference truly guides her.
“I don’t want to be rich,” Verratti said. “Paying my bills matters, yeah, but there’s more to life than just dollars.”
As proof of her friendly disposition, she honors her days of cookie preparation by placing on her bottles the same message, “dalle mia mani al tou coure,” Italian for “from my hands to your heart,” that she put on her baked goods. She also began the Thomas J. Verratti III Memorial Scholarship Fund, named in honor of her late son and run through his alma mater St. John Neumann High School, formerly 2600 Moore St., now Ss. Neumann-Goretti High School, 1736 S. 10th St., to benefit area youngsters. Tom Cavaliere, her romantic partner of nearly 23 years, used their shared heritage to choose their site’s name, using a transliteration of an Italian term for both a blow to one’s head and the consumption of too much booze.
“At Pollyodd, our products are all-natural, homemade, preservative-free and the closest thing to organic that’s out there,” Verratti said.
The graduate of South Philadelphia High School, 2101 S. Broad St., grew up in Grays Ferry’s Tasker Homes, 30th and Tasker streets. Although she never dreamed of opening her own business, the former waitress hopes to be an inspiration to others.
“Because of my upbringing I want to show people that they can achieve anything they set their minds to,” she said.
Full of energy, she confessed to being simultaneously burdened by sorrow. Having lost her son to suicide in 1997, she struggled to find direction yet knew making cookies and waitressing never could help her to connect with her past and position her for a fruitful future. She used a heartfelt talk with Cavaliere in 2005 to spur her and spent two years experimenting with recipes, desiring the perfect union of water, sugar, alcohol and natural flavoring. Nailing it in ’07, she and her mate began applying their signatures to forms from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, with incorporation as Naoj and Mot Inc. coming the next year.
“People think we’re French,” Verratti, a bona fide Italian, said of their appellation. “Really, though, it’s just our names backwards.”
The entrepreneur became a rarity in ’09, becoming one of the few women since the Prohibition era to receive a distiller’s license. She feels more blessed than proud over having such a distinction, as its novelty supports one of her mantras.
“I always root for the underdog,” she said.
The partners, who use a Point Breeze factory to oversee the production of what Verratti has termed “liquid gold,” scored significant funding from a Northern Liberties entity two years ago, and the board placed its first order in August. Available in limon-, lime-, orange- and chocolatecello, the creations, ranging from 22 to 24 percent alcohol, have found placement in 32 stores, including the Fine Wine & Spirits Shoppe, 1237 S. 11th St.
“We had everything ready Aug. 27 and pickup happened three days later,” Verratti said, vividly recalling a September evening when she and her five sisters saw the products at Fine Wine & Good Spirits, 1940 S. Columbus Blvd. “Since then, we’ve just been wishing for the best and think we’re on the way.”
Her quartet of offerings could have many complements soon, as she is waiting for the state’s approval to peddle a line of creme liqueurs consisting of banana, chocolate, lemon, orange and strawberry.
Verratti and Cavaliere, with whom she resides, opened their East Passyunk Crossing locale Dec. 21, capping a seven-year odyssey to give the former figure recollections of her youth, when limoncello making was a South Philly obsession.
“I fell in love with this space and knew it would be perfect for our operation,” Verratti said of spot they landed courtesy of a stroll along the commercial thoroughfare.
Operating on a Wednesday and Friday-through-Sunday schedule, she believes her increased choices, which could reach 18 flavors, will help her and her beau, whom she credits for his overall patience, to be open daily. Once the cremes can greet customers’ eyes, she will finalize a grand opening celebration and is pondering where to put the satellite store the state granted her permission to run, with Center City and Pittsburgh as top contenders.
Knot on her watch