Mary Jo Richards Interview
(Morgia's Pasta)

Morgia’s Pasta is a family run business that was started in April of 1990.
They make a variety of homemade pastas and pasta sauce.
What makes Morgia’s Pasta different from all the rest?
We took that question and more to Mary Jo Richards of Morgia’s Pasta.

Q – Mary, what is your position in the co.?
A – My title is Secretary/Treasurer. But, I’ve been involved in the co. since pretty much Day One, when my parents started the business. We are kind of like a woman owned business. My mother and I own it now. My parents did in the beginning. My mother is the majority stockholder. Her name is Rosalind Morgia. But, I pretty much do everything here because I’ve been involved with it right from the beginning, when my parents started the business. Both of them had full-time jobs. My mother retired in the past 10 years. She’s been with me here ever since.

Q – Is your father still active in the co.?
A – He is. He retired from a full-time job two years ago out at Fort Drum (New York). He worked part-time at a different place now. But, he does come out and help us with making the sauce, especially during the Holiday Season which is our busy time of the year.

Q – Why is the Holiday Season the busiest?
A – Holiday Season is our busy time because we sell gift baskets. Every year our volume and business increases with our gift basket sales. We ship all over the country with our baskets. I say we probably start our heavy basket season maybe a week or two before Thanksgiving and it goes right up until the 1st of the year. We probably sell within that 7-8 week period, maybe 700-800 baskets, which is probably not a lot for a big business, but, for a small business like us it’s a lot.

Q – That’s a lot of packing!
A – Yes it is! (Laughs).

Q – Can the U.S. post office handle all the packages you must bring in?
A – Well, we use Fed Ex Ground. We have a little store front here (Watertown, N.J.) where people can come in. It’s like a little Cash and Carry type place where people can come in. Everything we manufacture here we offer out in our little store. We’re too busy during the day to get any of the baskets made and shipped because we’re waiting on people. So, we’re here after hours, sometimes ‘til Midnight getting the stuff done, to get our baskets shipped and things ready for the next day, product made and everything else. We also sell stuff here not made by us. We sell a lot of local products from other small businesses around the Jefferson County area and also New York State made products that are Pride Of New York members. We’re Pride of New York members you know because you saw us at the State Fair.

Q – That’s right.
A – We’ve been a Pride Of New York member for about 15 years, 10-15 years now. We try to promote other Pride Of New York members that are local as well as other Pride Of New York members that aren’t. So, we carry a lot of stuff here other than our own, that we also incorporate into our basket. It may be a Breakfast Basket. The majority of our baskets have pasta products in them, but, we put bread mixes in them, soup mixes and just a number of other things.

Q – You’re not going to include any other pasta makers in that basket are you?
A – Oh, no, or sauce, no. It’s all Morgia’s Pasta Products, or some of ‘em I can think of off the top of my head right now are River Rat Cheese out of Clayton (N.Y.), Chamberlain’s Jelly. They make different flavors of jelly and Hacker’s Wing Sauce, and North Country Farms. They make muffin mixes and pancake mixes, syrup, and honey. So, we do a lot and we try to help and support the local businesses any way we can.

Q – What time does your store open?
A – Our normal hours are 10 A.M. to 4 P.M, but, as we get close to the Holiday Season because we get so busy, sometimes we’re here at 8. We still advertise at 10, and we’re open ‘til like 7 that we advertise. But, we’re here from like 8 o’clock to 10 o’clock at night, or later if we have to. At a certain point, when it gets dark and we know there’s no more people coming in, we’ll lock the door.

Q – That makes for a long day for you, doesn’t it?
A – It does, but, we do what we have to do to make the product and get the orders out with the demand.

Q – How many people do you employ at Morgia’s?
A – Well, you probably will be surprised but, it’s just my mom and I. My father comes in occasionally, part-time, but my mother and I are the full-time workers. We really don’t require much help other than with the Holiday Season. Our machines that we have are stainless steel. The mixer mixes up to 100 pounds at a time, of dough. We have extruders that make our pasta. We can make up to 50 pounds an hour with our machines. That’s one of the big machines we have. We have two other smaller machines that can do about 20 pounds each per hour. So, we really don’t need anybody because one person running a machine keeps up with the demand that we have right now.

Q – Morgia’s Pasta was started in 1990. What were you doing before that? Your father was working at Ft. Drum?
A – He was working at Ft. Drum then. My mother was working for New York State in the transportation Dept. I was working for Jefferson County. I was pregnant with my first child at that time. I actually decided to quit the job. My parents were doing this kind of like as a hobby in the basement of their home. We used to make pasta as a Sunday family tradition with my brother, my sister, myself, and my parents. What happened was, we belonged to a local church. They used to have a bazaar every year and my parents used to make the pasta and donate it to the bazaar. They would sell it and make money. There were a couple of local restaurants at the time, actually one in particular, Ann’s restaurant which was very famous around the area back then, contacted my father and asked, ‘Do you want to make the pasta for me? I saw it at the bazaar”. So, one thing led to another. So, we started making it for him. Then a couple of other restaurants called and wanted to buy the pasta. My parents talked about it and decided they would start a little business. They started in the business of their home. Word kind of grew so moved into a local bakery because we needed a little bit more room to do that. We started to get more and more accounts. My parents decided to kind of like start a business and they called it Jomaros. That was the initials of each of the first names of our family members. We had Jomaros for a few years and then they decided to incorporate and change the name to Morgia which was our last name. It was obviously a well-known name because my father is the youngest of eleven kids. My mom is one of five kids. My mother is also Italian. Her maiden name is Spaziani. So, it was kind of big on both sides. So, they decided to change the name to our last name which was Morgia because it was very well-known. Nobody knew who Jomaros was. (Laughs). That’s when we decided to incorporate. We outgrew the bakery and moved to a few larger places,  within a 3 or 4 year period after that. We’ve been in this location for about 12 years. I think we have 3, 200 square feet. Everything is manufactured right here; the pasta, the sauce. And that’s what we do. We incorporated in 1990 with Morgia’s Pasta. We ran it a few years before that under Jomaros, in the basement of their home. But, we’ve been in business since 1990.

Q – Is it difficult to market your sauce when you’re located in Watertown, N.Y.?
A – Yes and No. We have distributors that handle our product. We also sell Food Service in bulk boxes to restaurants and institutions. We have a distributor that does that – Renzi Bros. out of Watertown (New York), handles all our restaurant business. Their clientele goes south past Syracuse I believe, and up North as far as Massena and everywhere in between. As far as our retail packaging we just hooked up with a new distributor Deli-Boy. They’re out of Syracuse. These distributors that we have are the means to marketing our product. And that’s how we get into the stores – through them. They’re already established customers of the stores. They pick up new lines like ours and they present it to get us into the stores. It has been hard marketing. It was in the beginning. Brand new business. Brand new product. People were kind of leery trying it, but, once we got people to try it, they continue buying it.

Q – How does it work with these distributors, in terms of pricing?
A – You sell it to them and they re-sell it. They have their own sales people and they have their own stock people. So, once it leaves here we kind of don’t know what happens to it. We’re hoping that with this new distributor we can get into some of the older stores we were in prior to this new distributor.

Q – Do you advertise?
A – We do, occasionally throughout the year. We do very heavily around the Holiday Season. We do it on t.v. and on radio and in the newspapers. The local newspaper. Our t.v. and radio spots obviously hit farther out than Watertown. We’re on Time-Warner Cable. We’re on the Food Channel Network, HGTV.

Q – You give tours of your plant?
A – Yes we do, as long as we know ahead of time. Lots of time people will call and want a day where we’re not making pasta or sauce. So, we try to do it when they can come and see how we actually do it, how things are done here. We have done it in the past for local schools. A lot of the younger children in elementary schools like to see how pasta is made. It’s kind of interesting to them. They have no concept of anything, you know what I mean? (Laughs). We like to give them little samples when they leave here so they can take it home and show their parents.

Q – What makes your pasta sauce different from all the rest?
A – Our sauce is a fat-free sauce. You really can’t tell that it’s fat-free and we didn’t know it was fat-free until we had it tested and analyzed. We’ve always made it the same way. Id does not taste fat-free. It doesn’t taste light. There’s nothing missing. All of our products are home-made and natural. We don’t use any preservatives in any of our products. We consider ours to be different because we make it the old-fashion traditional way. We don’t put onions or peppers or anything else. It’s just the tomatoes and the spices that go in our sauce. And it sells very well. Our sauce sales probably exceed our pasta sales, and that has taken place probably in the last 5-6 years. We also sell our sauce in 4 gallon pails bulk to restaurants. We also sell it in gallon jars. So we offer 3 different ways people can buy our sauce. We feel our pasta is different from every other pasta on the market because again we don’t use any preservatives. But, the flour we use is different from every other pasta co. If you go into a store and you look at the ingredients, probably 99% of the pasta is made with semolina flour. We use a durum flour. It’s a high-quality yellow flour. Semolina is granular. Ours is like a regular ground flour. It makes a difference in the cooking time. Our products cook very fast. Some of the restaurants we sell to don’t pre-cook it, because they pre-cook servings to order. Our angel hair may take 3-4 minutes to cook one serving because it’s made with that flour we use. We also use eggs which is the way the older Italians used to make it. So, the eggs in it also cut down on cooking time. So that’s what we feel is the difference between ours and every other pasta on the market today. There is a difference in the taste because of the eggs and flour that we use.

Q – What do you think the future is for Morgia’s?
A – I don’t know. (Laughs). We’ve been in business a number of years. As you know, the economy certainly plays a big factor in small, New York State businesses, Last year (2008) I think the economy really hit the small businesses really hard. It hit us especially hard because our business is with flour, and the flour prices went through the roof for probably a 14 month period. They since have come down. It is kind of hard recovering when you’re a pasta co. with 14 months of having your prices triple what you paid for. So it has been hard coming out of that. We’re hoping that our business will continue to increase like it has every year. Our business didn’t decline last year, but because of the hit with the increase in the flour price, obviously our profit margin went down a lot. Our business didn’t decrease. I think with any business you hope that in the future your business continues to increase. We try to do new things and different things. We try to go from there with increasing our business in stores, which were in the process of doing right now. So, that’s what we hope for. We have been in business this long and we like to think it’s because we have a good product and I think it is because we have a good product. So, hopefully every year we try to move forward thinking that o.k. this is what we’re going to do this year and try to do and just see what we can accomplish from year to year.

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