Nick DiTomasso makes squeaky-clean foray into handcrafting soaps
by Kurt Dusterberg
Nick DiTomasso has dabbled in several business ventures through the years. Now he’s coming clean.
With soap, that is.
Four years ago, DiTomasso wanted to break free from his investments
in Florida, where the real estate market had gone soft. When his
longtime business partner, Elis Crismanis, returned home to Brazil for a
visit, DiTomasso asked her to bring back some family recipes. Instead
of culinary delights, Crismanis returned with her grandmother’s old soap
“Elis tried to make some soaps, and I decided to do some research,”
DiTomasso says. “I was enjoying it, actually. It was like cooking and
DiTomasso tinkered with his new idea and set out to relocate, eventually settling in North Raleigh.
“I started doing my homework on North Carolina,” he says. “I’ve
dabbled in everything, mostly in the entertainment business —
restaurants and clubs. But you get tired of that. It wears you out. The
club business will kill you. I had to get out of that. Bad hours, bad
His most prominent investment was a nightclub called Club Vinyl, a
trendy Manhattan hangout that attracted some of New York’s most ardent
“It was kind of an underground club,” DiTomasso says. “We had
everybody there. We had the everyone come in during their prime. It
didn’t open until midnight, and it stayed open until eight in the
The business of soap
After what DiTomasso calls “political battles” with officials in the
Tribeca neighborhood, he closed the club in 2000 and moved to Florida.
Now his days are spent in pursuit of the perfect bar of soap.
“I learned on my own, just like I learned to cook on my own,” says DiTomasso, who takes pride in his culinary skills.
Whether making soap or spaghetti sauce, the process is similar. He
makes batches of soap almost every day, setting out pots on the stove
and working in the ingredients like a chef. One pot is for combining
oils, while lye and water are brewed in the other.
“Then you have to mix the soap by hand for about an hour,” he says.
“And it depends on the weather. If it’s humid, it takes longer.
“You have to get it exactly right, from the lye to the oils,”
DiTomasso adds. “If you use too much lye, your soap will come out like a
brick. If you don’t have enough lye, your soap is going to have no
lather and be soft.”
DiTomasso, who uses no perfumes or chemicals, begins with the three
most common soap-making oils: olive, palm and coconut. Next are the
essential oils, which give soaps their unique scents. These highly
concentrated extracts come from all over the world.
“We get some of our essential oils from Brazil,” he says. “We use
something called copaiba, which is from the Amazon rain forest. It comes
from the trees there. It’s just remarkable for your skin.”
Once the soap is properly mixed, it is ready to set in a mold.
DiTomasso prefers to work in small batches, cutting each bar by hand.
Soaps must cure for six to 10 weeks in order to set properly. To that
end, DiTomasso devotes an entire closet to the task, where shelves are
lined with every color, shape and size.
“That’s when the glycerin forms inside the soap, which is made from
the lye and the water,” he says. “Glycerin makes that nice lather that
you get. It only forms over time. You have to let it sit.”
The results are unique. No two bars are exactly the same shape or
size, and each one has the name of the scent etched lightly into the
surface of the bar.
With 55 varieties, there’s a scent for even the most discriminating
sniffers. For the fancy coffee lover, Espresso Coffee with Pearberry
provides a nice wake-up call. For those who prefer a citrus-tinged
aroma, there is Grapefruit with Moroccan Clay, while those who like
garden scents can choose from exotic mixtures such as French Jasmine
Finding a market
DiTomasso is still taking his first steps in finding a market for his
soaps. He handles orders directly through his Web site,
www.naturalhandcraftedsoap.com, and has placed the product in several
boutiques throughout the Triangle.
But similar to other businesses, the world of high-end soaps is
fraught with challenges. Originally, he had hoped that retail shops
would appreciate the intrinsic appeal of a hand-cut bar, with its
natural color and characteristics. But shop owners wanted fancy
packaging, so DiTomasso has experimented, using fancy paper with
hand-tied ribbon. He’s even created a wrapper with a little handle.
And while the fragrances of each Natural Handcrafted Soap are subtle,
some potential retail clients have been surprised that the scents
aren’t more potent.
“If it doesn’t knock the socks off of you, they don’t want that,” he says of many retailers.
“You just want to be able to get a burst while you’re using it,”
DiTomasso notes. “You don’t want to feel like you’re showering with
While the marketing hurdles have provided a few challenges, DiTomasso
has received positive feedback from customers. And his own daily test
marketing fuels his enthusiasm; DiTomasso no longer relies on the
traditional get-in, get-out shower.
“The first time I used it, I couldn’t believe it … I actually stayed
in the shower,” he says with a laugh. “It doesn’t make you oily, and it
doesn’t make you greasy.”
Now DiTomasso has a clean slate when he begins his day, hoping to raise the bar — of soap — to a new level.
Kurt Dusterberg is a freelance writer based in Apex.