Charlie Serro Interview
(Grandpa Pete's Sunday Sauce)
What’s the first reaction someone has when they try Grandpa Pete’s Sunday Sauce?
“This came from a jar?!”
That’s right, it’s that good!!
Grandpa Pete was taught to cook by his mother who was taught by her mother.
And now we can all enjoy Grandpa Pete’s Sunday Sauce!!
Charlie Serro spoke with us about the family tradition and Grandpa Pete’s.
Q – Charlie, I saw a jar of your sauce on sale at the New York State Fair this year (2012). I’m looking at it and this woman says, “It’s very expensive isn’t it”? I said, “Most gourmet sauces are.” I don’t remember what the price was. Do you get people asking you why you charge so much for your pasta sauce?
A – I don’t know what they ask at the Fair. I sold it to the Pride Of New York and then they do whatever they have to. I would assume it was around $8.00. I have people who, they don’t ask me why? They just say, very few will say it’s too expensive. My answer to them and it’s the truth, and I would love for it to be cheaper and more competitive price-wise, is the ingredients. I use all high-end ingredients. So, there’s just no way around it.
Q – Charlie, you’ve got a big hurdle in front of you. You take a supermarket chain like Wegman’s, they’re pushing their own pasta sauce these days. They’ve put it at eye-level and under-cut the gourmet sauces by selling their own brand. How do you overcome that?
A – Tastings. People have to sample my sauce. I’m going to give you a perfect example. I did a tasting at Shop Rite in Albany, N.Y. In the front of the store Ragu was .99 cents and I’m in the back of the store doing tastings at $6.99 a jar and I was able to move about 30 jars of sauce in a few hours. Now, they had to option to pick up the .99 cent sauce. Once they tasted the sauce, they realized once they looked at the ingredients list, very basic, all natural; I don’t know what Ragu is, other sauces are priced lower, but, the taste is there and they bought it. Now, maybe the store sold a lot more than my 30 jars, but I’m just trying to say that once they actually get to sample it they realize that this is high quality and they love the taste and they’ll purchase it. So, that’s how. I have to do a lot of tastings. I do a lot of shows. A lot of crafts shows and wine and cheese shows. Wherever there’s large groups of people and that have speciality food booths and that’s how my business has been growing. Once they taste it – they buy it.
Q - You probably should’ve had a stand at the New York State Fair!
A – Well, I should have, but, I have another commitment. We’re in the resort business as well. I don’t know if they do tastings. I don’t know how they handle that. I don’t know how they display it. They contacted me. I’m part of Pride of New York. They purchase and are showing off all of the Pride of New York products. So, that’s how they had the sauce there. I don’t know if they had tastings there or not, but, that’s what it takes. It takes people to put it in their mouth and enjoy it. I give it to them on a little spoon. They don’t have to have anything else with it. They taste the sauce and then they realize it’s really delicious. Then when they read the nutrition facts they realize its all great ingredients. Some people use it on a weekly basis. Other people keep it for a special occasion. That’s the feedback I get from people.
Q – So, how did Grandpa Pete get started?
A – Grandpa Pete was my father. He’s passed on 14 years already. He was an Italian pastry chef. We had an Italian pastry shop in Brooklyn, New York for many years. When he decided to retire from that; he always loved cooking, we had they family resort business. My wife’s family has been in the resort business for 65 years, Pollace’s Resort. He came and spent the summers, my mom and he and he cooked. He loved cooking. My children grew up with Grandpa’s sauces. That was the time my wife and I started having a family and that’s when he came, at that time period. So, all of their years, the Grandpa Sauces were what they ate. Years had passed after he passed. They just kept telling me ‘We want Grandpa Sauces. They’re so good. We want other people to enjoy them’. That’s how it started. In 2008 we started the business.
Q – You started bottling the sauce in 2008?
A – Yes. I mean, we’ve been making the sauce forever at the resort. We make dinner boxes also with other foods in them. We have pasta which is a gourmet pasta and we have sauce. In some boxes we put an assortment of different food like giardiniera. We make like a complete dinner, biscotti and coffee and breadsticks so they can use it as a complete dinner. Then we have another one that’s all items from different parts of New York State, not from other areas or imported. And, we make all these different assorted boxes. People give them as gifts or buy them for themselves as dinners. And now, we’ve put the pasta and the sauce in a bag. We promote dinner in a bag, so they can buy the pasta and the sauce together.
Q – Where are you making this sauce?
A – I make some of it at the resort. I also make it at a commercial kitchen, where they do the bottling for me. I make the sauce and they bottle it.
Q – I was wondering how that works.
A – Yeah. You need a very large staff. There are places where you can go to prepare and cook and use their staff.
Q – Have any celebrities ever tried your sauce?
A – Yes, one has. She made a video of it. Kristina Ferree. She’s a chef and has had all these cooking shows on t.v. Right now, I didn’t see, but, I’ve been told she’s on the Kellogg’s cereal boxes. She’s from California. Her show is on the Oprah channel. I’m involved with her through a shopping network called open sky. She has a store on open sky and as soon as she tasted the sauce she quickly said she wanted to endorse it. She made a video of it. She showed 2 or 3 different ways of preparing the sauce. She made soups with the sauce. But, she also showed it with pasta. A beautiful video. You can see that by going on opensky.com and clicking on Kristina Ferree. She’s quite a famous person. She’s been in the food business for many, many years.
Q – You need these celebrity endorsements to get the public’s attention.
A – Yes, I know.
Q – What did you do before you got involved with Grandpa Pete’s?
A – I was a school teacher for 30 years. After I retired from that, I started the sauce business.
Q – What did you teach?
A – I taught elementary school. I taught 5th grade for many years. I taught elementary art. It was a wonderful time. I’ve had a wonderful life so far, and I have a long way to go yet.
Q – Tell me about Pollace’s resort.
A – My in-laws came here in 1946 and they bought a boarding house, a farming house, to take in boarders which was very popular in the Catskills. They made it grow. As time went on they built on buildings, added a large dining room, went into catering business. Families, generations came back. They return year after year to come on vacations. They get 3 meals a day and activities with a Social Director. It’s small. It’s only a 46 room resort but they can fish and swim. Families have grown up in this. I have a woman who just called me and she came here as a child and she’s 72 years old!! She came most of her life and them for a time period hasn’t. And now she’s doing a whole reunion with her family. People return. I have people coming consecutively 35 years. And now their grandchildren are now coming. It’s an interesting thing. It’s a very family oriented business.
Q – Do you have musical entertainment?
A – Yeah. We do. We have entertainment at night time. A lot of family entertainment. Magic shows. Karoke. Game nights. Stuff that keeps the family together. It’s very family oriented.
Q - And the resort is open for business how many months of the year?
A – Just Summer. The end of June to Labor Day. Then we just re-open for Columbus weekend.
Official website: www.grandpapete.com
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