Melissa Torre is a long-time service industry worker in Philadelphia. She used to own a bakery called Cookie Confidential, at 517 S. 5th Street for five years. She closed the bakery in 2015 to pursue another passion… soap making! But not just any old soap – her sustainable soaps and soap products are inspired by and made with food-grade products, many sourced from local food producers in the Philadelphia area, such as Primal Supply Meats and Philadelphia Bee Company.
Self-taught in the art of soapmaking, she launched Vellum Street Soap Company as an environmentally-friendly food-grade skincare business because she saw how much “waste” restaurants and commercial kitchens produced. She knew there was a way to cut down on that and re-use and repurpose those previously discarded ingredients. After extensive research and testing, she developed her line of soap and skin products with food sustainability in mind.
Additionally, furthering her desire to be as eco-friendly as possible, most of the packaging used for these products are upcycled from local restaurants, such as salvaged glass jars and bottles that are re-cut by Remark Glass based out of the BOK building. Pushing the sustainability envelope even farther, she offers a $3 credit for every empty jar or bottle returned.
She typically offers her line of products at local farmers’ markets and pop-up shops and fairs throughout the city as well as through her online store. She created Suds for Buds packages that people can send to their friends as a way to connect and cheer up during these physically distant quarantine times.
When she’s not making soap, she’s also the General Manager of the PHS Pop Up Garden at 15th & South Street, which was supposed to have their opening weekend on April 17th. With the opening date uncertain at the popular South Street hangout, I checked-in with Melissa to see what she has cooking up this year.
Philly Grub: If it weren’t for the coronavirus lockdown, what would you be doing right now?
Melissa Torre: Spring is the launch of the market season for Vellum St, so we would be spending our weekends at all the best craft fairs & farmer’s markets Philly has to offer (Clover Market, Art Star Craft Bazaar, West Craft Fest, Liberty Flea, Farm to City, etc.). We were also about to finalize our contract to vend a few days a week in Reading Terminal Market, which would have been a great central location for us and our customers, but that is obviously on hold at the moment.
PG: What ARE you doing right now professionally and to pass the time?
MT: Fortunately, we are considered an essential business (everyone needs soap to wash those hands, right?!), so we are still doing online sales, with free, no contact delivery in Philly (and shipping elsewhere). Even though online sales are up, sales are definitely down overall because we lost all of our markets. All but 1 of our 20 retailers are closed. So, to supplement, I have been working a few days a week with our friends at Weavers Way Co-op in Mt Airy, doing home deliveries. I’m pretty much as busy as ever, just trying to hustle as much as I can to pay the bills and keep fed!
PG: Do you miss the cookie business/your bakery on 5th Street?
MT: Funny you should ask that! I didn’t even miss it the slightest bit until a few months ago. Over the winter, I busted out the old recipe book and made a few batches of cookies. I still get regular inquiries from folks wanting to place orders, so I had chatted with a few friends with coffee shops and storefronts about doing a few Cookie Confidential Pop-Ups this year. We were on track to get the first one going for Mother’s Day, but now I’m hoping perhaps in the fall it will be a possibility.
PG: Any other projects or plans for the rest of 2020?
MT: We’ll still be pushing ahead with Vellum St, really hoping to be able to have a regular fall/winter market schedule. We just launched our website on a new platform, so making some moves to drive traffic in that direction is a big focus right now. I’m really excited to launch a new scent/flavor planned with a couple rad Philly business (coffee & donuts, anyone?!). Cookie Confidential pop-ups are still a possibility this year along with a possible savory pop up project I’ve had on my mind for a while. Even though I’ll have some ingredient sourcing issues due to the drastic changes in the food world, it still has a great chance of coming to fruition. My fellow gluten-free peeps and I need some delicious attention paid to us in the comfort food department. Stay tuned!