NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. — Michelle Palisi says she built her business with “cigarette money.”
The New Port Richey owner of Chocolates by Michelle runs one of the busiest sweet shops in all of Tampa Bay, especially around the holidays.
And she owes it all to kicking a four-pack-a-day cig habit back in the ‘80s.
She used the money she would have spent on smokes and socked it away.
“I took two dollars to the bank every day,” says the 72-year-old as she dips pretzels, apples and Oreos into gooey vats of goodness in her cozy shop.
“They used to make fun of me.”
They’re not making fun anymore.
Palisi, who opened the first iteration of Chocolates by Michelle in 1984, is beloved — and busy. She makes everything by hand.
“People always ask, ‘Where’s the machine?’ You’re looking at the machine,” she says. “These two little fingers are the machine.”
She’s also earned a reputation in the Bay Area for giving to endless charities and organizations, from local hospices to the American Heart Association.
“I give so much away the IRS would never believe me,” she says. “I give away more than comes in. How can I not? I’m Italian!”
Palisi traded cigarettes for joy — and never looked back. “It makes me happy to make someone else happy by giving them chocolate,” she says.