While some people struggled in quarantine, Vinnie DiNatale, 15, embraced lockdown as a time to whip up a new hobby. Little did he know it would lead to a sweet new business: DiNatale Desserts.
For now, his customer base is mainly family and friends of his Facebook business page, where visitors immediately land on photos of his latest confection creations, each more tempting than the one before it.
The fledgling baker is also a student at Pearson Online Academy and a competitive figure skater out of IceWorks Skating Club in nearby Aston, Pennsylvania.
Pre-pandemic, Vinnie trained three hours a day, six days a week to prepare for competitions, a day’s work (and workout) before school. About two months into the pandemic, he was bored. His mom, Lori Morgan, brought home a Betty Crocker vanilla cake mix and a can of frosting. Vinnie rejected the canned frosting for a more creative choice: green cookie icing.
“I really like art, and it was fun to do,” he recalls.
Not one to be content with first-time efforts, Vinnie’s next venture coincided with Father’s Day, so he made cupcakes from scratch, using recipes he found online. He topped them with vanilla butter cream frosting.
The verdict? “[My dad] really liked him,” Vinnie remembers.
Serious skaters are perfectionists by nature, attentive to detail and constantly learning from mistakes. Vinnie, who’s been on the ice since he was 4-years-old, moved beyond the amateur baking realm by studying cake decorating via an online platform dedicated to students in grades K through 12. The rink had to abide by COVID-19 restrictions, so Vinnie added another remote instruction into his academic schedule.
“I continued classes and found harder stuff [specialty flavored cupcakes, for example] to do. I make my own recipes,” he adds.
The connection between the precision of ice skating and baking was not lost on him. “It’s up to me. I’m the only one, and I have to do it myself, so the way I do it and execute it is the way it turns out,” he says.
With that, his brand was born. The first sale came from his stepdad Bill Welker’s post in a neighborhood chat group. His customers ordered beehive cupcakes that Vinnie baked and delivered.
“It was fun and I wanted to get more orders,” he says, noting that’s when he started posting photos on Facebook.
Next, his aunt placed an order for 50 cupcakes for a baby shower. Success again. Around that time, Vinnie’s dad, a marketing manager, helped him develop the brand packaging and a professional image.
Vinnie was undaunted by the business management side of things: costs versus return on investments, accounting, pricing. “I’ve been interested in business since sixth grade, when I studied entrepreneurship,” he says. Along the way, he set up spreadsheets to track expenses used to put a price tag on his creations.
“It’s kind of fun,” Vinnie says.
As new orders came in, Vinnie welcomed the challenges by developing new skills as a student in online culinary classes—exploring pie making, flavor combinations and modifying recipes often culled from social media platforms.
“We’re the guinea pigs,” says his mom, who also holds the title of customer service manager. “I have to remind him of his finite schedule.”
As his customer base rises, Vinnie says he’s considering furthering his education in culinary school, aware that cooking is based on science and math, and also includes French, which he’s been studying.
“He’s virtually self-taught,” his mom adds, noting how impressed she is with Vinnie’s endeavor. “I’ve learned a lot from him. Baking and skating both require discipline, continual pushing, falling and getting back up, knowing that it doesn’t always work. There’s problem-solving and time management and planning.”
When he was first getting started, there were late-night runs to the grocery store (poor planning). Now, Vinnie has created his own recipe for success.