MODESTO — In a nation where female founders still fall far behind their male counterparts when it comes to business ownership, Carla Ciccarelli owns not one, but two, companies.
Through her ventures, Dream Dinners and Ciccarelli Jewelers, both located in Modesto, Ciccarelli carries on her family’s tradition of female-led free enterprise. For her, it started with jewelry.
“I grew up in the business,” Ciccarelli said of her jewelry store. “Business is my background, but jewelry has always been (in my roots).”
Her mother, Wilhelmina Willemse, owned one of the first jewelry stores in Las Vegas, which she ran for more than 20 years before moving to Modesto and establishing Wilhelmina’s Appraisals.
Ciccarelli studied business administration at University of Nevada, Reno. While in Reno, she worked part time at a jewelry store where she became the first female manager in the shop’s 75 years of operation. That is where she met her husband, Greg, a Modesto native and fellow jewelry store manager.
In 1990, they moved to Modesto and established Ciccarelli Jewelers on the corner of Sisk Road and Standiford Avenue.
Ciccarelli said she has always had a knack for sales and an instinct for business, but the opportunity to help others is what drew her to the jewelry and food businesses.
Whether she is helping a couple choose an engagement ring or providing healthy foods for family meals, “It’s all about helping, the personal touch of getting to know customers and seeing them regularly,” she said.
For 26 years, Ciccarelli has built a family-run operation. Both she and her daughter, Alex Ciccarelli, hold their diamond certificates from the Gemological Institute of America.
Alex is working to become a graduate gemologist so she can take over her grandmother’s business.
“That makes three generations (of female jewelers),” Alex said. “It’s completely unheard of.”
She said she was one of just five women in a class of 45 taking a recent course through the Gemological Institute of America in Carlsbad, California.
Though there are few females in the field, Alex notices that women are gaining stronger footholds in gemology.
“I consider myself fortunate to come to work … to be brought up by such strong, independent women,” she added.
Improving opportunities for women is one reason Carla Ciccarelli established her second business in 2007, Dream Dinners. She said she wanted to help bring balance to women’s lives, so they could have time for family without compromise.
“That’s why Dream Dinner was created,” said Ciccarelli.
“(This is) hitting women in our core. Women used to be stay-at-home moms. Now, we can’t be,” she said. “(Dream Dinners) helps people juggle things.”
Once a month, customers go to Dream Dinners for one hour to prepare 12 or more meals. Dream Dinners takes care of shopping, prep and cleaning to save customers an average of 20 hours per month. That helps give them more time with their families, more time for their careers and more time for themselves.
When it comes to lessons learned during her combined three decades as a businesswoman, Ciccarelli has just one word of advice: patience.
“We’ve seen the economy go up and down. Stay true to what you believe in, no matter what,” Ciccarelli said.
While being a woman in business certainly has its pros and cons, Ciccarelli said she has never felt that being a businesswoman in Modesto was a drawback.
“Here in our area, I don’t feel as though there are any disadvantages. We can be a part of community in every way,” she said. “There is something to be said of smaller communities and how they perceive women.”