La Dolce Vita
Jan D'Atri and Mom, Livia, Living The Sweet Life
Jimmy Magahern | Jul 1, 2011, 10:13 a.m.
Jan says that just as her brother’s friendship touched countless lives during his brief time on earth, the starter bread has already spread from her kitchen to those of many of his cherished friends. “Hopefully this will live on for decades,” she says. “Every time we stir it, we think of him.”
Livia returns and Jan burps open the top of the container, taking in a deep breath of the sweet, doughy bouquet.
“Oh my go
sh, close your eyes and smell this,” she says, holding the container between them. “Mom, you gotta smell this!”
Mother and daughter practically rub noses as they draw in close, close their eyes, smile, and together exhale what has to be the world’s sweetest sigh.
in the Kitchen
Food has always been at the center of the D’Atris’ lives.
“The Italian tradition is, we live in the kitchen,” says Livia. “I don’t know why they even build a dining room. Our dining room chairs look brand new for 20, 25 years — because we never sit on them! Only for looks. We live in the kitchen!”
On the radio and TV, with her still-intact Northern Italian accent and feisty wit, Momma D’Atri comes across as the perfect Central Casting image of the hilariously wise Italian matriarch. “She loves to tell stories,” Jan says. “And they all begin with, ‘When I was a little girl in Treviso…’”
When Jan and Livia launched their own line of biscotti in 2003 and marketed it on QVC, Jan recalls worrying about her talkative mother eating up their precious time on the mighty home shopping network, interfering with the main objective of selling a few cookies.
“When you’re one of the lucky two percent who get selected to pitch your product on QVC, they put you through a school at their headquarters in Pennsylvania,” Jan says. “And they drill it in you: ‘You have four minutes. You have to sell $6,000 of product a minute or you’re never coming back.’”
Jan says she practically sank to the floor when the QVC host started out their segment with the question, “So, Momma: Tell me about Italy.”
Unbeknownst to Jan, the producer, working in a control room where every word spoken on the air is electronically measured in real time against the call-in sales volume, was directing the host through his earpiece to simply keep Momma talking.
“I’m kicking her in the shins, muttering ‘Sell, sell, sell!’” Jan says with a laugh. “What I didn’t know was that every time she opened her mouth, people loved it. It was the most humbling experience of my life.” Jan says they wound up selling $46,000 worth of My Momma’s Biscotti in six minutes in their debut 1:30 a.m. timeslot. Three years later, the dynamic duo sold out $71,000 in cookbooks in the same span, and ultimately Jan and Livia were invited back on QVC a total of 12 times.
No dummy, Jan has wisely featured her mother prominently in her TV and radio shows ever since, and the two have built a mini-empire on her biscotti alone, which is now available in several grocery outlets throughout the state.