After losing her dream job due to COVID-19, she rebounded with a cocktail syrup startup

SICKLERVILLE, N.J. -- The COVID-19 pandemic has not been kind to the restaurant and hotel industries. When it swept up countless jobs earlier this March, Isabella Abbate was sandwiched right in the middle.

"At 23, I did not foresee myself being a restaurant manager in New York City at that age," said the former employee of the New York Marriott Eastside hotel.

She had just been promoted when the coronavirus tore away her young professional career.

Furloughed with no return to work in sight, she left her Brooklyn apartment on a one-way drive home to South Jersey.

But Isabella was not shaken nor stirred. She looked at her father's resilient work ethic for motivation to find a new path in a new industry.

"My daughter never sits still. Always looking to improve," said her father, Nick Abbate, who owns and operates Villari's Lakeside Restaurant in Sicklerville.

The COVID-19 wave left both father and daughter near-helpless in its wake. Still, they worked together to donate food to healthcare workers at Cooper, Jefferson, and Virtua during the pandemic.

Nick pivoted to offer take-out and now offers outdoor dining options. But the fix wasn't as straightforward for Isabella.

"This entrepreneurial spirit that Isabella has, has actually catapulted her into things I never imagined," said her father.

Now role models for each other, the Abbate family is looking at brighter days ahead for their businesses.

True to form, Isabella converted her flavorful hobby into a cocktail syrup business, "Simply Bella's." She has crafted more than a dozen flavors fit for even lemonade, coffee, and tea. Each hand-packaged bottle comes paired with a recipe labeled to the back.

"Since we couldn't go out to the bars, we couldn't enjoy the comfort of others, I decided to bring hospitality to the comfort of our own homes," she said.

After humbly mixing the syrups at her father's restaurants, Isabella hits the road and sells at local farmers markets.

Carla Camerieri, a repeat-customer, raved about the flavors. "The more you can get these kinds of flavors into drinks, the more nuance you get into the drink, the more depth, then the sky's the limit," she said."

Carla used Simply Bella's to spice up her daughter's pandemic-era birthday party. "You take one little cocktail recipe, blow it up, make a batch of it and serve it to your family. It's the greatest thing, especially now," she said.

Simply Bella's joins the ranks of many other locally-grown small businesses that take root at farmers markets.

"We were deciding whether or not to even have a market," said Ralph Ciallella, the coordinator of the Haddonfield Farmers Market. Originally located at King's Court, the marketplace moved to the Archer and Greiner parking lot at Euclid Avenue to ameliorate social distancing.

Every Saturday morning from 9am to 12pm, the Haddonfield Farmers Market continues to be a resource for the community to safely gather and support local businesses like Isabella Abbate's. Simply Bella's even utilizes local produce to create some of her flavors.

Isabella is now a simple syrup-seller by day and a bartender at her father's restaurant by night. Even with little sleep, she couldn't be more grateful.

"I'm constantly working around the clock, but it's something that I love to do, so it's not considered work when you love to do it," she said.

To learn more about Simply Bella's, visit her website.

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