One of the newest trucks to hit Durham's food truck scene, Holy Moly Cannoli is a labor of love started by two Duke grads.

Risking all of their savings with a newborn at home, Michael Steigerwald (P.A. '12) and Christina Steigerwald (P.A. '11) built a creative dessert business that has quickly become a local favorite. The Chronicle sat down with Michael Steigerwald to discuss the experience of founding a food truck. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

The Chronicle: Can you tell me a little about your background?

Michael Steigerwald: Starting back about 10 or 15 years ago, I was an Army medic. I was on deployment to Iraq, then when I got out of service, I decided to become a PA. Now my wife and I are both actively practicing PAs. I do emergency medicine and she does critical care. I work about 45 minutes north in Henderson and she still works at Duke. We never saw ourselves going the food truck route; neither of us have a true food service background.

TC: How did you get the idea to sell cannoli?

MS: I've always wanted to start a business my entire life, but I never quite knew what it would be. Ever since I met my wife, we joked about starting up a cannoli shop and calling it “Holy Cannoli.” We were never serious about it, but the more we thought about opening up a business, the more it turned into a serious proposal. One day we actually sat down and crunched the numbers. It seemed like a viable business so we decided to go with it.

With both of us growing up in the Northeast, there was such a culture about this particular dessert. Up in Boston, people wait in line for hours for one cannoli, at places like Modern Pastry and Mike's Pastry. That culture just isn't here in the South. If you were to go out specifically to look for a cannoli, most of what you get here are store-bought shells or half-assed filling, so we decided to take it from the ground level and make everything from scratch.

A week after we had our son, we bought the truck. I jokingly told my wife it would take about three months to get it up and running, thinking that was an adequate time frame. It took over a year to get it up and running and inspected. We feel like we're at the point now where her and I have worked out the kinks of it and we're able to bring on a full staff. Between our clinical schedules and our son, we're only physically able to do three days a week at the moment. Our 2019 plan is to have six-day operation.

TC: How did you go about starting a food truck?

MS: We were completely naive when we first started. Obviously, thinking we could get it started in three months shows how naive we were. The first step is the truck itself; designing it and figuring out what kind of truck you want.

Not having a true mechanical background, it took us a while to figure out how it would actually work. It was a bit of a gamble. It was an old mail truck. We stripped it down to the bare studs, just to the aluminum walls. There was an old roll-up door that had to be completely removed, we had to frame the wall and install the back door. We built the truck from scratch, so that was the first step. We had a little bit of money saved up, and all of that went towards the truck...

A lot of the process was trial and error. It was a lot of blood sweat and tears, and I mean literally all three. I can't tell you how many breakdown sessions my wife and I had, thinking that we'd never get it up and running. There was a point when the truck almost never happened. But, thankfully, we decided to push through it and I'm glad. 

TC: On your website it says you donate a portion of your proceeds to veteran charities. Which charities are they?

MS: At the moment we're still figuring out what our profit margins are, but once we have that a portion of our proceeds are going to US Veteran Core. It's a local veteran's charity based out of Cary, North Carolina that does fantastic work. They do food for veterans who don't have access to it, disaster relief, sheltering homeless veterans and outreach education. It's really a full spectrum charity, which relies 100% on donations. It's a part of our mission to give back to the veteran community. Working with veterans is what I know; they're who I'm comfortable with. They are my people. We felt so strongly about continuing that mission in every part of our lives, including our business, and we felt the best way of doing that was donating a part of our proceeds to the US Veteran Core.

In addition to the events found on their website, Holy Moly Cannoli is planning a festival of local, veteran-owned businesses on Veterans Day.