When you walk towards the center of Norfolk, Virginia’s Selden Market, a unique collection of locally-owned, start-up businesses, you may smell something that sparks positive childhood memories. It is the distinct smell of burning sugar emanating from flame-melted marshmallows. Instead of seeing marshmallows roast on a stick over a campfire, you see an industrial strength torch quickly browning the tops of marshmallows behind a protective glass window. The tantalizing sight-smell sensory combination initially draws you to the S’mores Amore kiosk, but it is the unforgettable taste of each charred square that brings you back.
Owner Duane Dinio and his wife Kristine have shared a love for eating and creating desserts since their childhood. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of Virginia in 2010, Dinio did not just want to create any pop-up eatery. He set out to recreate one of his favorite childhood experiences – making and eating s’mores, minus the hassle of building a campfire, shutting down due to bad weather, or warding off annoying mosquitoes. He thought it was important to their brand to not just create a delicious dessert, “but also create a memorable experience.” Dinio gets repeated validation of achieving this goal every time he witnesses customer reactions to made-from-scratch marshmallow-based concoctions being torched before their eyes. He is determined to deliver the “ultimate s’mores experience” to each customer any time they choose to “Get Fired Up!” for our various flavors of s’mores-inspired desserts.
Since their opening in July 2018, S’mores Amore has established working relationships with local organizations such as the Norfolk Tides Baseball Team, Norfolk Admirals Hockey Team, Nauticus Maritime Museum, various local craft breweries, Zeiders American Dream Theater, and others in the Downtown Norfolk community. They have also partnered with Coastal Virginia Magazine on various events, from bridal expos to other food related events.
In October of 2018, they served a customer who happened to be a member of the Wegmans Supermarket management team in the area helping with the opening of their newest store in Virginia Beach. He was so impressed with the S’mores Amore brand and product that he offered to bring the rest of his Wegmans leadership team to meet with Dinio. This led to a partnership with Wegmans, which now sells S’mores Amore products at its Virginia Beach Boulevard location.
Ambience and Service
The first thing I noticed when visiting the S’mores Amore kiosk is how genuinely excited the Dinios were in serving their customers. They believe that listening to the customer and adapting to their needs goes a long way in earning customer loyalty. They understand that one exceptional individual customer experience has a high likelihood of drawing in additional customers. Dinio says they “really try to pay attention to what flavors or dessert concepts are trending and try to engage with our customers as much as possible to gain an understanding of what they like and what we can do to improve our brand.”
In addition to wife Kristine, who has been an integral part in establishing positive customer service experiences from opening day, S’mores Amore has two additional team members who have been integral to their growth and success – Lead Baker Amy St. George and Brand Ambassador Von Gonsalves, who helps manage marketing on social media outlets and local pop-up events with other local businesses.
Norfolk’s Selden Market is the perfect spot for new entrepreneurs based on location alone. It is next to one of the flagship Hilton hotels in Hampton Roads and is minutes from bustling Waterside Drive, MacArthur Center, popular eateries and nightlife hot spots, and local colleges. The level of camaraderie among the Selden Market vendors is inherently strong, as they are all small businesses trying to fulfill their respective dreams. Dinio says the shops have various “talents to offer the city of Norfolk and the Hampton Roads community and help each other out when we can through constant conversations on how we can improve our businesses and what we can do to promote [Selden] market as a whole.”
Dinio says his business’ long term goals are to transition from his kiosk location to a storefront location, open additional retail locations, and to eventually be able to have a warehouse enabling them to ship nationwide.
Dinio understands that to be competitive and distinct, they needed to do more than sandwich a torched marshmallow and piece of chocolate between two graham crackers. Each of their S’mores Brownies and S’mores Blondies starts with their signature graham cracker cookie crust on the bottom. Then they add a layer of either a brownie or blondie, which then gets topped with a made-from-scratch, fluffy marshmallow. They complete the construction by torching the marshmallow.
Being a Filipino American, Dinio included a few flavors inspired by his heritage. In fact, one of S’mores Amore’s best sellers is the “Ooh Bae Baybee!” Ube Coconut S’mores Blondie, which centers around the purple yam flavor used in countless Pinoy desserts. I took home a Turon flavored S’mores Blondie, which was part of their “Heritage Collection.”
Other top selling items include the “Golden” Vanilla S’mores Blondie and “S’mOreos” Cookies & Cream S’mores Blondie. They also feature monthly and seasonal flavors, which keep customers coming back out of sheer curiosity. They have even created alcoholic flavors of S’mores Brownies and S’mores Blondies by incorporating the craft beers and liquors of local breweries, “because what’s better than beer and s’mores than beer…in your…s’mores!”
Piqued your interest yet?
It’s been a few days since I’ve brought S’mores Amore products home, and my family is still raving about how delicious they were. I have a feeling that anytime we eat another s’more, we will be comparing it to the gooey masterpieces sold by S’mores Amore.
I asked Dinio about his passions outside of S’mores Amore, and each part of his answer seems to be reflected in his business in some way. He’s a pro wrestling fan at heart (childhood nostalgia), a fan of craft beers (see alocoholic S’mores flavors), and his Mt. Rushmore of inspiring figures includes Charlie Brown, Vince McMahon, Roger Federer, and of course, Willy Wonka.
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