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Roosevelt Island's Cannoli Truck Won't Melt from Vendy Dessert Competition

By Amy Zimmer | September 5, 2012 7:45pm

MANHATTAN —When Joe and AnnMarie Glaser — the husband-and-wife team behind La Bella Torte Dessert Truck — saw the list of street vendors they’ll be competing against in the 2012 Vendy Awards, a friend advised them to pray for cool weather.

The cannoli truck, which spends most of its days on Roosevelt Island selling its special ricotta cream-filled Italian pastry along with a decadent banana Nutella cake, salted caramel tart and other sweet treats, is the only vendor of the six finalists in the dessert category, announced Wednesday, that doesn’t specialize is cool summer treats.

The year-and-a-half-old truck — making its second appearance as a Vendy finalist — will go head-to-head with Imperial Woodpecker Sno-Balls (which makes New Orleans-style snow cones), Coolhaus (known for its made-to-order ice cream sandwiches and flavors like “fried chicken and waffles”) and Monsieur Singh Lassi (which makes lassi drinks and pops from a blend of yogurt and herbs).

The Melt Bakery (purveyor of seasonal and local ice cream sandwiches) and Andy’s Italian Ices & Espresso Bar (which has more than 45 flavors, including green mint chip and sugar-free tangerine) are also finalists.

In advance of the eighth annual Vendy Awards, which raises funds for the Street Vendors Project advocacy group, on Sept. 15 at Governors Island, Joe Glaser is preparing La Bella Torte for the competition.

“This year we’re coming with a full arsenal,” he said.

He recalled that last year’s dessert winner — Wooly’s Ice, which specializes in Hawaiian- and Taiwanese-style ices — offered cold sweets. So among the six items the truck plans to offer is a frozen hot chocolate, he said.

“I was in shock last year when [we were] nominated after four-and-a-half months,” said Glaser, who was born and raised in the Yorkville neighborhood of the Upper East Side and whose wife hails from the Greenpoint/Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. “It’s great to be nominated, but it doesn’t hurt to win.”

Glaser got into the dessert business in 2009, after 27 years as a union plumber. When the recession hit, he and his wife, a secretary at an advertising company, decided to make a shift.

“We had to go on welfare or change careers,” he said. “Welfare was not an option for me.”

They both did a work-study program at the Institute of Culinary Education, where they got to take classes in exchange for 1,600 hours of work. They initially went into business selling desserts wholesale to restaurants.

When a friend was selling a truck, Glaser jumped at the chance to take his dessert creations on the road, first decamping for Hoboken, then setting up last summer along with other trucks under the High Line on West 30th Street.

He was lured to Roosevelt Island in July of this year, when the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation offered street vendors a free month to set up shop. Now that the $345 monthly fee has kicked in, Glaser is hooked.

He’s there four to five days a week, often along with two other trucks, Hibachi Heaven and Eddie’s Pizza, which also came to the island this summer.

“I have a nice following on Roosevelt Island, and we’re the only pastry shop here,” said Glaser, who gained some notoriety on The Learning Channel's "Next Great Baker."

“Me and my wife on the truck together, it’s a bit of a comedy routine. I’m boisterous. She’s quiet. Then she’ll throw a comeback at me. The customers like it," he added. “I love my truck. If I could put a shower in my truck, I’d live in it.”

The 2012 Vendy Awards will take place on Governors Island Sept. 15, from 12:30 to 5 p.m. General admission tickets ($95) and VIP tickets ($145) are available at nycvendys2012.eventbrite.com.