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March 2002

Loretta Kaminsky - Sweet Lady
in a Sweet Business

by Joseph RADDER

The first twenty plus years of Loretta Kaminsky’s adult life were like a roller coaster ride.

1957 was an up year, when she received her education degree at the University of Buffalo, after three years at the University of North Carolina, and married the man who brought her to Buffalo, Allan Kaminsky, an attorney here.

1972 was a downer. She was seriously injured when her American Airlines flight from Detroit experienced an implosion at 12,000 feet. Loretta was the most seriously injured of all the passengers.

In 1973 things were on the up-swing for a brief moment as she recovered from her injuries, but later that year she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

By 1980 things turned upward for good when, apparently completely healed, she decided she wanted to do something with her life. Always an accomplished baker, she began selling baked goods to friends and neighbors. In a few years, her cottage industry, Desserts by Loretta, had expanded to the point where it was no longer practical or legal to operate from her home kitchen, so she opened a retail store in Williamsville.

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Loretta was your typical 50’s teenager.

A turning point in Loretta’s career came when she decided to feature chocolate gifts under the name Lou-retta’s Custom Chocolates. She found a mold maker who was willing to make a rose, and the first chocolate rose was born. It was an instant hit and suddenly Loretta was flooded with orders. “In those days, the whole family including my husband Allan spent a lot of evenings around the dining room table assembling roses.”

About that time, Loretta consulted with Jan Pisanczyn of the Small Business Development Center. She credits Jan with a great deal of Lou-retta’s success. A business plan was soon developed under his guidance, then a marketing plan. Soon the little store was selling a full line of chocolate gifts.

Loretta Kaminsky’s first big break came when an article she sent in to USA Today was published in their Money section. Corporations began seeking her out to make chocolate gifts, logos and business cards and people came from far and wide to buy Lou-retta’s Chocolates.

Another big break came not long after the store was moved in 1989 to larger quarters at the Boulevard Mall. Walt Disney World called and suggested they test Lou-retta’s products in their gift shops. “I can’t help but marvel at the timing,” Loretta said. “In 1989, five years down the road and in our new store, business was good but we just weren’t making enough money.”

Needless to say, Lou-retta’s Custom Chocolates have been sold, not only in all Disney gift shops, but at Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf-Goodman, Marshall Fields, Jacobson’s and recently through the Home Shopping Network to name just a few. A substantial percentage of Lou-retta’s sales today are via the Internet. The firm’s website gets many hits daily.

Loretta says, “I truly believe our products are the best. That’s why it works.” Those who know Loretta Kaminsky say there are other reasons why it works. This woman clearly has incredible marketing instincts and her partnership with her daughter Ellen Bradbury is unique and a perfect fit. “Where I have people skills, Ellen has tremendous organizational skills. She is extremely innovative and has great vision. Ellen runs the daily operations and that lets me spend all of my time on sales, marketing and public relations,” Loretta told us.

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Loretta Kaminsky in 1936.

Lou-retta Custom Chocolates is a classic family operation. Not only is daughter Ellen an active partner, her husband Allan is an advisor. Allan was right beside Loretta on that early roller coaster ride before Lou-retta was established and he has been a pillar of strength for her ever since.

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Loretta’s first taste of showbiz in 1956 as a lead in her college musical.
(Top middle).

The Kaminskys have three adult children. In addition to Ellen, Gary, an attorney and investment broker, lives in Philadelphia, with his wife Beth. Laura, is a teacher at Temple Beth Zion, is here with her husband Mike. Loretta and Allan have six grandchildren.

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Allan and Loretta on their wedding day 44 years ago.

Recently Loretta appeared on the Home Shopping Network. “I promised my grandchildren I would send them a message of love by rubbing the ‘L’ pin I wear. In the excitement of the first telecast, I forgot to do it. I quickly got six phone calls. I made it a point not to forget in the repeat broadcast. In fact, the host of the program asked me about it and I was not only able to rub the pin, but speak to each of my grandchildren by name on national TV. Of course they were thrilled.”

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Loretta and her family at an anniversary celebration in 1998.

Awards and honors fill the walls in Loretta Kaminsky’s tiny office. In 1990 she received the first Entrepreneurial Executive Award from Buffalo State College. In 1995 she was a delegate to President Clinton’s White House Conference on Small Business. In 1995 she was named New York State’s Business Person of the Year. And in 2001 she received the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Small Business. She has appeared on TV many times, locally and on the networks as well.

Loretta Kaminsky is now on the State of New York Small Business Administration advisory board and has been a member of the Small Business Development Center advisory board for five years. Four years ago, President Clinton appointed her to be one of the nine members of the National Small Business Administration advisory board for the SBDC.

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The entire Kaminsky clan.

Loretta (center) and her darling Divas.

It’s not all work and no play for Loretta Kaminsky, even though her avocation, the theater, might be considered work by some. Currently she is appearing in Diva by Diva, a celebration of women. “It’s a wonderful show,” Loretta said “all about relationships between women and women and women and men.” Diva by Diva, directed by Mary Kate O’Connell, is performed every Wednesday evening at the O’Connell & Company Playhouse in Snyder Square. A dinner-theater package is available which includes dinner at Cafe in the Square.

When asked which of her accomplishments she is most proud of she said “I am most proud of my family. It’s all about family.”

Some would say Loretta Kaminsky has been lucky, and perhaps luck has played a minor role in her success. It seems more obvious to us that the success of Lou-retta’s Custom Chocolates is the result of her untiring energy and dynamic personality. Yet she’s a sweet lady, very appropriate for a sweet business.

Joseph Radder is a freelance writer.


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