Bethany Clough

Eating Out: Ooh De Lolli's Take Away Cafe a dream come true for two Fresno entrepreneurs

Ooh De Lolli's Take Away Cafe opened recently, a cute little cafe where you can get a salted caramel brownie, a cup of coffee and sit on a leafy patio.

But there's a lot more going on in the 230-square-foot business tucked next to Gazebo Gardens nursery at Van Ness Boulevard and Shields Avenue. The women who opened the cafe are doing what many dream about — transitioning from a career in an office to working at their passion full time. They're also a prime example of Fresno's growing food entrepreneur movement.

There's more than just brownies at the cafe.

The Take Away Cafe ("take away" is what Europeans call takeout) is open 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. It sells "light bites," which include salads and sandwiches, breakfast food such as frittatas, breakfast pastries and coffee.

But it's the baked goods that are the star of the show here. There are lemon lavender scones, sweet buns that are 6 inches across and all kinds of cookies (including gluten free ones). The women also sell a cross between a croissant and a doughnut, their version of the Cronut.

Galettes — a kind of free-form rustic pie — are made with peaches from the Masumoto family farm in Del Rey, along with other locally grown fruit.

The business is the brainchild of Donna Mott. She has run Ooh De Lolli, selling ice pops (paletas if you prefer) from her cart around town for the last three years.

The ice pops are for sale at the cafe, too, along with other "frozen novelties" such as half pints of the ice cream-like "choco banacado" with chocolate, banana and avocado in it. And there are "pooch pops" for customers who want to buy a treat for their dogs.

Most of the baked goods at the Take Away Cafe are supplied by Jannine Fitzgerald of FireHouse Cookies & Pastries. She is a Clovis woman who works for the city by day and moonlights as a baker late into the night.

"She can bake anything," Mott says of Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald was also the first person in the county to take advantage of the state's new cottage food law. It's a certification that allows people — who once would have been considered cookie-baking criminals because they sold baked goods made in their home — to be legitimate entrepreneurs.

After county health professionals inspected Fitzgerald's kitchen, she could sell her baked goods to retailers and at events. She provides goodies to Kuppa Joy Coffee House in Clovis.

Until this change in law, home cooks had to rent a commercial kitchen and faced other barriers to legally selling their food, said Amy Fuentes, the city of Fresno's local business initiatives manager.

"It opens this huge door of opportunity for a lot of people in our community," she says.

Many of the Valley's large, successful food companies started with one person tinkering in a kitchen. But they took generations to get to where they are today.

Fuentes says she hopes this new process can speed up that growth so these fledgling companies can help the Valley's multi-billion dollar food industry grow even more.

Since the cottage food permit debuted in January of 2013, Fresno County has had 44 people qualify to sell food under one of two permits. (A class A permit allows people to sell directly to the customer, say at a farmers market, while a class B permit allows the goods to be sold by retailers. Both permits exclude foods whose preparation comes with higher risk to public health, such as meat, for example.)

Fitzgerald is baking at home with help from her 10-year-old daughter — who has her own turquoise KitchenAid mixer — and she pays her 14-year-old son to clean her kitchen. By day, she is an information technology specialist for the city of Clovis, but she frequently gets up at 3 a.m. or works late into the night to fulfill orders for baked goods.

She doesn't get a lot of sleep, but it's all part of her dream to eventually transition to baking full time and ditch the day job.

"I'm totally game," she says. "I understand that I'll be completely over-extended before I can break loose."

Opening the cafe is a dream come true for Mott, too. The Fresno resident processed home loans for about 15 years and then worked in a home builder's design center.

But when the real estate market crashed, her career went with it. So she started making ice pops in her kitchen and founded Ooh De Lolli.

But she always dreamed of opening a cafe.

"I loved to play cafe" as a child, she says.

When she was younger, she even stole a receipt pad, the kind used for taking orders, by sticking it in her underwear before leaving the store.

The universe has a way of making things happen, she says, though this time, they're on the up and up.