Andrea Meriano knew precisely how she wanted her Cannoli Food Truck to look, even borrowing her niece's crayons to sketch the exact design with hot pink and leopard-print trim. The truck's color scheme would also be reflected at her family's brick-and-mortar bakery, which was moving from Guilford to Madison. But the night before the truck was ready, she lay awake and wondered if she'd made the right decision.
"I'm lying in bed and thinking, 'Oh my God, I have a bright pink truck with a leopard awning on it, what was I thinking, no one's going to come, no man is going to come to the truck,'" she recalls. "I was so nervous. But then we picked it up and it looked fantastic."
The unique presentation worked. Now the Meriano family's signature vehicle is among the most recognizable food trucks in the state, as sweets lovers associate the playful design with the bakery's specialty – hand-rolled Italian pastries finished with creative fillings.
In its third season, the offshoot of Meriano's Bake Shoppe is often found at farmers markets, parties and more frequently at food truck festivals as the events grow in popularity.
"These festivals are everywhere," Andrea says. "Once you do one, [all] the people that run them call you up."
Five cannoli flavors remain constant on the menu, including traditional with classic ricotta filling, chocolate-dipped, Heath Bar crunch, Oreo cookie and peanut butter. Rotating flavors are often inspired by seasons: chocolate-covered strawberry, pumpkin spice, apple pie, blueberry. Maple bacon, Mounds bar with coconut and the "Memphis Mafia," with banana filling, peanut butter chips and a chocolate-covered shell, are big sellers as well, Andrea said. "We're big Elvis fans here." (The bakers also created another musically-inspired cannoli with pineapple and coconut for a KC and the Sunshine band concert on the New Haven green.)
Meriano's Bake Shoppe opened in Guilford 27 years ago and became known on the shoreline for its sfogliatelle, tiramisu, pignoli cookies and special-order cakes. Last year, Andrea and her siblings Anthony and Liz moved the bakery to Madison, where the Boston Post Road storefront's shocking-pink walls are covered in old family photos. There are numerous tributes to the Meriano parents, Tony and Betty, lost to colon cancer and melanoma.
"Our heartache has been massive," their children wrote on the bakery website. "But we continue on with our bakery, pouring our hearts into every baked good and every thing we do."
Heartened by the care their patriarch received from Yale-New Haven's Smilow Cancer Center, and specifically thoracic surgeon Dr. Daniel Boffa, the Merianos vowed to donate a percentage of sales from the truck to the hospital's Thoracic Oncology Program Fund.
"He was just amazing, above and beyond what surgeons do," Andrea says of Boffa. "He stayed with him for two years, taking care of him…[he was] just amazing to our family."
A message painted on the door of the truck informs visitors of the philanthropic purpose, and Andrea says truckgoers often share their own experiences and connections to cancer.
"[People talk about] how it's touched them. I never expected that. I just thought we'd be slinging cannoli."
As a member of a bakery family for nearly three decades, Andrea says the best part of her role is impacting other families.
"They come in every holiday, birthday. Your back hurts and you go home and you're sore, but then you think about…I could get choked up right now. You think about all the lives you've touched. It's just desserts, but at the same time, it's memories. People remember that. It's the best part of the meal."
Look for a profile of a new food truck each week through summer in Thursday's CTNow section, and follow the series, with photos and video, at courant.com/foodtrucks.