Savor: They May Be Kooky

But Bella’s Cookies sure beat Oreos (even since they’ve dropped the trans fats).




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Photograph by Thom Thompson


A Google search for “health food sucks” yields about 1.35 million results. But one Delaware company is helping to crumble the trend—and perhaps dunk it in a glass of organic milk.

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Bella’s Cookies is Delaware’s first all-natural, organic cookie company. Its specialty is delicious confections void of artificial colors and flavors, trans fats, hydrogenated oils, preservatives, refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup. They’re what company co-founder Mark Leishear calls “clean cookies.” “Everything that goes into our cookies is either an all-natural ingredient or an organic ingredient,” he says. “But they’re still cookies.”

And that’s kind of how the company was born. Leishear and his wife, Kelly, wanted their two kids—five year-old Bella, and Liam, 3—to adhere to a healthy diet. “But there wasn’t much out there that wasn’t purple and pumped full of junk at the Dollar Tree,” Leishear says. “So we started making our own stuff.”

Organic food isn’t chemically or genetically altered, nor has it been sprayed with chemicals.

All that says very little about how fun and tasty Bella’s Cookies are. The Leishears offer a canon of cookies with kooky names like the newly minted WooWoo, a white chocolate-cherry creation, and the pumpkin-ginger Hunky-Punky. Then there’s the Rumazin, which marries Bella’s Cookies with raisins soaked in Dogfish Head Brewery’s brown honey rum. The Champion Chunk and the double-chocolate Choco Bomb are standards.

Each cookie variety comes with a silly label and the story of the cookie’s origin. The label for the Choco Bomb features Bella in mad scientist garb with an atomic chocolate cloud in the background.

Bella’s Cookies can be ordered at Long available downstate in places such as Java Beach in Lewes, Rainbow Earth Foods in Rehoboth Beach and Sam Yoder Farm & Store in Houston, upstaters can now find them at Newark Natural Foods.

—Matt Amis

Roll With It

Black Lab never set out to re-create Delaware’s most famous bread, but it’s not doing a half-bad job of it.

Right off the bat, let’s debunk the rumor: Barry Ciarrocchi, owner of Black Lab Breads in Wilmington, is not a chemist. So those who have been waiting for him to duplicate the famous rolls of Black Lab’s predecessor, the legendary DiFonzo’s Bakery, shouldn’t hold their breath.

“I’ll be honest with you, me and Mr. DiFonzo, we’ve had a lot of laughs about that, only because people think there was a secret recipe, and there just isn’t,” Ciarrocchi says. “I said to him once, ‘You know, they say that that recipe of yours is worth, like, a million dollars.’ And he was, like, ‘Really? Well they can have it on sale for $750,000 today.'”

Before holidays, customers would wait in lines that stretched halfway down Union Street to buy DiFonzo’s rolls, fist-sized goods with a chewy crust and hearty white center. When Black Lab took over the bakery 18 months ago, it began making its own version. They’re similar to DiFonzo’s, but with a chewier crust.

“Whenever anybody wanted bread or rolls, they’d come down here. My dad used to come down, and he’d make sandwiches on those rolls,” Ciarrocchi says. “I’d always be thinking, Well, what does this guy have? How come you can’t get this anywhere else? I mean, did he sell his soul to the devil? That piqued my interest most. This guy was doing something that no one else could even grasp.”

If anyone could grasp it, it would be Ciarrocchi, who holds a master’s degree in mycology—the study of fungi. He’d worked in several laboratories before opening his first Black Lab bakery in Kennett Square.

“I have a black Labrador retriever, so I’ll never convince people I didn’t name the bakery after my dog, but whatever. It’s just a name I came up with because black labs were always manned by alchemists trying to make gold. I figure this is kind of like my black lab here. I’m back here kind of putting things together, and it is by no means a regular, regimented laboratory, by any stretch of the imagination.”

Though neither baker has written his recipe for the other, they are almost the same, within a pound of flour or water, Ciarrocchi says. “It’s just how you handle it that makes his bread different from mine.” DiFonzo always used warmth when proofing and shaping his bread. Ciarrocchi uses the cold.

“It’s just an odd thing,” he says. “We do things exactly the same, but differently.” —Katie Bennett

Glutens, Be Gone

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Christine Ruggio chalked up her stomach cramps to stress. But when she doubled over in pain and her hands and feet began to tingle every time she ate certain foods, she got scared.

“Doctors would say I had irritable bowel syndrome and tell me to relax,” says Ruggio. Then she learned about celiac disease, a painful digestive disorder that damages the small intestine. Doctors ordered blood tests. Ruggio’s was positive.

So Ruggio started Sweet Christine’s (, which offers fabulous, gluten-free sweets that contain no artificial coloring or preservative-free. Her client list, like the number of people being diagnosed with celiac disease, is growing.

One in every 133 Americans has celiac disease. Others simply can’t tolerate gluten, which is found in wheat, rye, barley, some vitamins and many processed foods. Because celiac sufferers can’t absorb nutrients that their bodies need, they can’t eat such foods as pizza, bagels and pasta.

Yet several local places cater to the gluten challenged. Ruggio distributes to Harvest Market in Hockessin and Newark Natural Foods. Pizza by Elizabeths in Greenville offers a melt-in-your-mouth gluten-free crust. Trader Joe’s in Wilmington has a wide array of gluten-free dips, rice, pasta, salad dressings and snacks, as does Healthy Habits in Bethany Beach. At To Life! in Fenwick Island, customers can plug in a laptop and enjoy coffee and gluten-free goodies. And none of it tastes like cardboard, which is the big drawback to most gluten-free products.

“After 100 attempts, my favorite chocolate-chip cookie recipe is even better than before,” Ruggio says. “Being diagnosed with celiac disease changed my life. But now my whole family eats healthier treats with no preservatives. That’s good for everybody.” —Maria Hess

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