Danielle Marullo Sepsy grew up in a big Italian family in which everything revolved around food. She spent much of her childhood in the kitchen helping her mother and her Grandma Rosemary—whose creativity and talent, she says, were “top tier”—bake and cook. Baking in particular offered an escape for Sepsy, who suffered from anxiety as a child. “When I was in the kitchen, it gave me a sense of focus and a feeling of control,” she says. “I think my grandma really saw that, too, and she was always encouraging me.”

The Big Brunch promo photo for HBO MaxSepsy and her grandmother loved watching Julia Child’s cooking show together, and when Sepsy turned 8, Rosemary gave her a KitchenAid mixer and a subscription to Martha Stewart Living magazine. The gifts may well have decided Sepsy’s fate. “To me, they were the best gifts in the world,” she says. “Ever since then I really never got out of the kitchen.”

Today, Sepsy ’12 H&HD is the founder and owner of the booming wholesale and online bakery The Hungry Gnome. She recently had a successful run on the reality cooking competition The Big Brunch, boasts a sizable social media following (many of her cooking videos have received more than a million views), bakes for celebrities such as Whoopi Goldberg, Drew Barrymore, and Michael Strahan, and has been affectionately nicknamed the “Scone Queen” by her followers and fans for her signature recipe that she began baking in middle school.


closeup of an assortment of Sepsy's famous scones, courtesy
SCONES, SWEET SCONES: Sepsy’s signature delicacies, which won raves when she appeared on The Big Brunch, remain the foundation of her baking brand. Courtesy.


“I knew Danielle was special the minute I bit into my first biscuit,” Dan Levy, the actor, filmmaker, and creator-host of The Big Brunch, said via email. “Her dedication, enthusiasm, and desire to make her grandmother proud [has] solidified her as one of America’s best new bakers.”

That appraisal won’t surprise anyone who knows Sepsy’s dedication to her craft, work ethic, and entrepreneurial spirit. In 2003, encouraged by her family’s reaction to that first batch of scones, 13-year-old Danielle printed her parents’ landline number on a DIY business card, loaded up a basket of her baked creations, and knocked on the doors of virtually every local business in her hometown of St. James on Long Island, N.Y. “By the time I got home from my first excursion to try to find customers, I already had voicemails on my parents’ box saying that they loved the scones and they wanted to sell them,” she says. “I was in business overnight.”

Sepsy’s affinity for scones dates back to the chocolate chunk scones that her family would often buy from a farm stand in the Hamptons when she was a child. “We would try to wake up as early as we could and drive there before we went to the beach for the weekend, but they would sell out so fast,” she says. To avoid disappointment, she tried to replicate them from scratch, experimenting with different flavors and using her family as willing guinea pigs.

That summer, Sepsy woke up every day at 3 or 4 a.m. to bake the scones that her parents would deliver to her clients on their way to work. Her first experience “owning a bakery and having a business” was inspiring, she says: “Just watching people enjoy my products was the best feeling on Earth.”

Sepsy’s parents, knowing she was eyeing a career in the food industry, encouraged her to apply to colleges with hospitality management programs instead of going to culinary school, so that she could get the sort of well-rounded education that would provide a better understanding of how to run a business. When she left home for University Park, she put her business on hold, planning to eventually come back to it.

An early classroom experience with Dan Mount, an associate professor of hospitality management, left a lasting impression: Sepsy recalls him telling the class that students who sat in the front of the lecture hall showed they were engaged and had the drive and networking capabilities to succeed in this career. She and a friend sat in the front of the classroom throughout the semester. “That changed my approach,” she says. “I always tried to show my personality and introduce myself in networking events, and it helped me make great contacts.”

As her parents hoped, Sepsy’s college experience provided broad experience that went well beyond how to create magic in the kitchen. That was particularly true of her time working at Cafe Laura, the student-run restaurant in the Mateer Building. “We would basically take over for the evening and plan a dinner with our group. It’s our theme and menu, we’re managing the costs and the staff. Those experiences were extremely worthwhile when I went to the workforce.” She also put in time at the Nittany Lion Inn as a catering sales intern and spent five months in Florence, Italy, on an education abroad trip.

Sepsy moved to New York City after graduation, where she worked as a food and beverage manager and later as a hospitality sales coordinator at the Waldorf Astoria. She followed that with gigs as the assistant general manager of the Todd English Food Hall at The Plaza Hotel, and general manager of the Clement Restaurant and Gotham Lounge at The Peninsula Hotel. All three were good training grounds and offered opportunities to interact with demanding clientele, from celebrities to world leaders. While working full time at The Plaza, Sepsy spent 20 hours a week attending night school at the French Culinary Institute (now the Institute of Culinary Education), where she completed the school’s professional culinary arts program.

Sepsy went on to spend four years at Convene, a corporate hospitality and events company. But none of those jobs altered her goal of owning her own business. She lost her job at Convene in 2020 due to organizational restructuring, but she says the layoff had a silver lining: It gave Sepsy the time and space she needed to launch a solo career. On the same evening that she was laid off, and encouraged by her husband, Dan Sepsy ’12 A&A—“He told me, ‘This is exactly what needed to happen. Now it’s your time, it’s now or never’”—she sent emails to every New York coffee shop she’d ever frequented, asking them if they needed baked goods.

One of those shops was Joe Coffee, whose owner initially responded saying he had no plans to change his vendor of 10 years, but he encouraged Sepsy to drop off some samples anyway, which she did a few days later. “That night, I got an email from him that said in the 18 years he had been in business he had never had better baked goods in his life,” she says. “So, I was in business.”


Dan and Danielle Sepsy in their kitchen eating scones and wearing Hungry Gnome apparel, courtesy
LIVING MÁS: Sepsy and her husband, Dan, had their first real date at the old Taco Bell in downtown State College. “We still enjoy a Crunchwrap Supreme together every so often,” she says. Courtesy.


Sepsy launched The Hungry Gnome in February 2020, just weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic exploded across the U.S. The business survived an understandably shaky start, and eventually Sepsy rented a 750-square-foot shared commercial space in Long Island City, Queens—later expanded to 2,000 square feet as the business grew—and began baking for a couple of dozen accounts, mostly coffee shops. Then she came across an opportunity that sounded made for her. Levy, best known for the 2010s sitcom Schitt’$ Creek, was looking for 10 chefs from around the country to participate in a new reality TV cooking contest. After several interviews, cooking tests, and even a psychological test to make sure potential contestants were up to the task, Sepsy was chosen.

The Big Brunch, which streams on Max, was not her first television appearance. In 2013 she won the “Chopped Challenge” on Anderson Cooper’s short-lived talk show Anderson Live. (She got the opportunity through a Penn State sorority sister who worked on the show and thought Sepsy would be perfect for it.) She transformed a basket of mystery ingredients into a delectable meal, à la the Food Network reality show Chopped, showing her flair for cooking on live TV. “I have a lot of anxiety, but for some reason, when I’m on television talking about my food and getting lost in it, it’s a high that I can’t explain,” she says. “Beforehand I feel horrible, nervous and tortured, but when I’m on and doing it, there’s no place I’d rather be.”


closeup of Sepsy's chocolate chip muffins, courtesy
CRUMBLY CREATIONS: Sepsy’s bakery, The Hungry Gnome, offers muffins, biscuits, cookies, and a Nutella-swirled banana bread along with her famous scones. Courtesy.


On The Big Brunch, which debuted in November 2022, her scones wowed the judges: Famed New York restaurateur Will Guidara declared them to be among the best he’d ever had, and after finishing his own, he swiped a half-eaten one from a fellow judge’s plate. Levy, meanwhile, could not stop raving about Sepsy’s rosemary honey biscuits.

Though Sepsy didn’t win—she made it to the final round and appeared on all eight episodes of the show—she considers it a triumph on many fronts. Her online business saw a 5,000% increase in sales after the show debuted. She says she was the only contestant who had a product available to order while the show aired; viewers realized that they could order the exact confections they were seeing her create on-screen. “Thinking that this show would help sales, I had set us up for success before the release date,” she says. “My team and I made many baked goods and dough in advance, had them frozen, got some extra storage space, and were ready to go.”

Today, The Hungry Gnome sells to approximately 150 wholesale clients and churns out between 120,000 and 130,000 baked items a month from a custom 5,000-square-foot space in Long Island City. And Sepsy does more than bake: She’s regularly featured on talk shows such as Good Morning America, Good Day New York, and the Tamron Hall show, whipping up ice cream sandwiches and “aphrodisiac” brunch menus, or giving tips on how to use leftover fridge and pantry ingredients. She’s also a featured chef on the Food Network Kitchen app, on which she cooks original recipes for segments that appear live and on demand.


two photos side by side, left is Sepoy pointing on NYC street corner pointing to large display for The Big Brunch, right is Sepsy with host during filming of an episode of Good Day New York, courtesy
'BIG' THINGS: Her stint on The Big Brunch was a huge boon for Sepsy’s business; she’s now a regular kitchen guest on morning shows including Good Day New York (above, right). Courtesy.


Sepsy has been proactive in harnessing the power of social media, building a large community of followers, including nearly 100,000 on Instagram. That audience has attracted brands such as Nutella and the Lidl grocery store chain, which partnered with her on segments for her YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram channels with recipes using their products.

Last winter, several months after the final episode of The Big Brunch aired, Sepsy hosted a pop-up in her shared kitchen in an industrial area of Long Island City. She was worried that people wouldn’t show up, but she ended up having a line down the block. “That was so emotional for me,” she says. “Because I see things via social media, I rarely get to talk to my customers face to face.” She’s now planning to have regular pop-up events. Last November, she also hosted a brunch with the prestigious James Beard Foundation, further validating her up-and-coming position in the food industry.

And in 2025, in a full circle moment that she’s sure will make her Grandma Rosemary proud, Sepsy is set to release her first cookbook. The Scone Queen will be published by Knopf, whose best-known author-chef was none other than Julia Child.


Lemon Icebox Bars

Try Chef Sepsy's recipe for a delicious and easy summer dessert.


closeup of lemon bars, photo by Nick Sloff '92 A&A
Recipe prep by Savita Iyer. Photo by Nick Sloff '92 A&A.



1 cup + 3 tablespoons graham cracker crumbs (Honey Maid preferred)
cup sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

3 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons fine lemon zest
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
⅔ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
⅛ teaspoon fine table salt
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

A dollop of whipped cream and extra lemon zest or rind

Whipped Cream
2 cups cold heavy cream
⅓ cup confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract



1. Preheat the oven to 350F and spray an 8x8-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray and line it with parchment paper, leaving about 1 inch of the paper to hang over the edge of the pan all around for easy release.

2. Combine all the crust ingredients and stir just until it resembles wet sand. Pour the crust mixture into the prepared pan, and use your hands to pat down the crust into an even layer. You can also use a flat-bottomed measuring cup to flatten the crumbs. Bake the crust for 9-10 minutes until it’s golden brown and set, then remove from the oven and cool completely. Reduce the oven temperature to 325F and prepare the filling.


1. Using a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, electric beaters or a whisk, beat the egg yolks with the lemon zest until pale yellow in color and slightly fluffy (about 4–5 minutes). Whisk in the condensed milk, lemon juice, salt, and vanilla extract until smooth and combined.

2. Pour the filling into the pan over the crust and use an offset spatula to spread it evenly.

3. Place pan in the oven and bake for 10–15 minutes or until set. The center should be slightly jiggly but not too loose. Let it cool on a wire rack and then place in the fridge to chill for at least 1 hour. While it’s chilling, make the whipped cream.

Whipped Cream

1. Using a stand mixer with a whisk attachment or using hand beaters, beat together the heavy cream, confectioner’s sugar, and vanilla until stiff peaks form.

2. Once chilled, carefully lift the cake out of the pan using the parchment paper edges, place it on a cutting board, and use a sharp knife to cut into bars. To serve, top the bars with a dollop of whipped cream and a bit of lemon zest.


Parizaad Khan Sethi is a New Jersey–based writer and editor who regularly contributes to publications including Allure, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Bustle, and The Cut.