When you’re one of 16 children, you learn pretty early on how to do things on your own. Is it any wonder, then, that Denise Aquilante and seven of her siblings are entrepreneurs?
But it wasn’t just the size of the brood that mattered. She watched her father, Anthony, run Phoenixville-based Aquilante Catering for decades. She understands the value of hard work and taking a chance on something you believe in.
In 2010, after heading up the family business for 15 years, Aquilante decided to take a step into the unknown. She’d completed a nutrition minor in addition to her business degree at Immaculata University and felt prepared to take the next step.
“I was always into clean eating, and we made things fresh in the catering business,” says Aquilante. “I’ve been a vegan since I was 13. With my nutrition background and all the stuff coming out about childhood obesity and food allergies, I wanted to do something.”
Aquilante had been providing healthy meals and snacks to the military, but was surprised at the low nutritional quality of some of the other foods consumed by members of the Armed Forces. That was the inspiration behind Bare Deelites energy bars. She started developing them in her Wayne home, searching for just the right recipe. They had to be “absolutely clean,” says Aquilante. That meant no soy, no dairy, no wheat, no gluten, no butter and no nuts.
No anything? Well, they had to taste good. Aquilante worked to create three flavors, mocha, peanut butter and cinnamon raisin. “I finished a batch and gave them to my neighbor,” she says. “He tried them and said, ‘This is it!’”
The bars are now sold at the Lancaster County Farmers Market in Wayne and Phoenixville’s Artisans Gallery and Café. Aquilante hopes people will buy them, of course. But she also has bigger plans: A portion of her sales will benefit the Pure Water Movement. And she’d like to make sure people learn something about nutrition from her products. “I want to teach and educate people about clean eating,” she says. “I want to help eliminate some of the bad products out there.”