Patrick Palmieri Interview
Continuing our look at pasta sauces, we focus on what has become a “New
Haven Original”-----Palmieri Pasta Sauces, just part of Palmieri Food
To tell the story of the co. we interviewed Patrick Palmieri.
Q – Patrick, it was your grandmother that started
a family grocery store in New Haven?
A – Yeah. They (grandmother and grandfather) had a little grocery store
on Crown Street in New Haven, in 1920. My grandmother told me the way the sauce
came about was she would always be selling fresh vegetables. If the vegetable
didn’t sell, before they would go old, she wouldn’t let them go
bad; she would always turn them into sauce. So, she started making a sauce
which the family, as the family came and went from the store, would eat in
the store. These were the relatives and the in-laws and the children. So, she
would always have sauce going. She would always have pasta. That was a way
of feeding. It was a very tough economy back then. They had a big Depression
in the 30’s. She was already making sauce, and people were already working
a lot of hours. What would happen is at the end of the day people were walking
past the store in their way home. They just finished a 14-16 hour day. They
would say to Anna (Patrick’s grandmother)-----‘Can I get a little
sauce for the pasta? I’m too tired. I want to go to sleep. I haven’t
got time to stew the tomatoes down, cook the tomatoes down.’ So she started
by just giving them some sauce. It became a regular thing. So then it turned
into people would, in the wee hours of the morning, would drop off a used peanut
butter jar or a jelly jar or something like that. During the course of the
day my grandmother would fill the jar up and stick it on the shelf. At night
time when the people would come home from work, they would go in the store
and know the jar they left off and would just grab it off the shelf and pay
her for the sauce. It went on like that for years and years, until one day
a food inspector was doing an inspection of the store. He picked up one if
the jars of sauce that was on the shelf. He showed it to my grandmother and
asked, ‘What is this’? My grandmother explained to him what she
was doing. He goes you can’t sell it on the shelf without a label. You
have to have a label. So, she ended up getting a label which back then was
like a stamp. You would lick it, and stick it on the jar. That’s basically
how it evolved to where it is today.
Q – So, the sauce wasn’t sold nationally
until you entered the picture?
A – It’s not national. It’s a small New England company
that sells on the east coast. We do U.P.S. We have customers from all over
the country who one time or another lived in Connecticut or went to Yale College
or for whatever reason they can’t get the sauce and they want it, so,
we U.P.S. it to every state in the United States. Usually a case or a couple
of jars at a time. But, to find it in the grocery stores, you’re probably
best off just finding it in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts,
Vermont, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania. So, we’re still a very small, little
co. But, we make a great pasta sauce and that’s where we are today. My
father didn’t incorporate the co. until I believe 1962. He had already
been running it for awhile. But, my grandmother and grandfather started it
(the business) in the back of a grocery store on Crown Street. Then they moved
it to a basement of an apartment house on Chapel Street which they outgrew
very quickly. Then they bought another building on Bristol Street, 135 Bristol
Street. That’s where, when I was a child I grew up, working in the Bristol
Street building. Then about 12-13 years ago I purchased the building on Hamilton
Street where we are now. It’s just been a slow growth.
Q – You actually learned this business from the bottom up. You labeled
boxes, swept floors, stacked cases, repaired machinery, loaded trucks, and
made deliveries. That’s important to do isn’t it, to get the feel
of how a co. should be run?
A – Absolutely. I would go in the morning and make the sauce and then
I would change my clothes and go out to a sales call. I would come back put
my other clothes on again. I would make more sauce. I would load trucks. I
would unload trucks. I did the hiring, the firing. It’s a small company.
I did as much as I could until it got to the point where we were selling enough
sauce that I couldn’t make it anymore. If the co. was going to stay in
business, I had to bring on people. Now we have people who just make sauce,
people who just make deliveries, secretaries that just do the paperwork. Like
any small company.
Q – Your title at the co. is President and CEO?
A – Yeah.
Q – How difficult was it to get Wegman’s
to carry your product?
A – That’s a funny thing because I have nothing to do with it.
I sell my sauce to distributors. For instance, Wegman’s is probably buying
it through a distributor called Davidson’s, or Bazudo’s or maybe
even Millbrook Distributors. Those are the people that buy from me. I don’t
go sell Wegman’s directly. It goes through a distributor. I don’t
know what stores it’s in unless I actually go into a store and see it.
So, that’s where I’m at right now.
Q – Would you have any input into how much a bottle
of your sauce would sell for?
A – It’s determined by two people. It’s determined by the
distributor who puts the mark-up on it, and then the grocery store itself which
puts a mark-up on it, and that can fluctuate a lot. And there are a couple
of stores that buy direct from me. But, I really don’t have a final say
in the price that the retailer is going to pay for it. I always felt I wanted
the customer to get the biggest bang for their buck. My sauce is very reasonable.
It’s a very hearty wholesome natural product. It’s expensive to
make, but, I’m not rich. I work everyday. I put out very good value for
Q – How big of a market is there for some of the
other products you make, the horseradish products, the tartar sauce, the
mustard, the jelly?
A – Yeah, the horseradish and cocktail sauce are our main things. When
I bought the Pinder Co. which was a local competitor in the horseradish business,
he had on the market a tarter sauce, a jelly, and mustard. We just continued
to do that the way he did it.
Q – You have a private labeling and custom blending
service with your co.?
A – Right.
Q – What’s that all about? If someone walked
in and asked you to create a sauce for them, you would?
A – Exactly. We pack for about 32 cos. inside of the Palmieri label.
They’re fancy restaurants, small chain stores or restaurants that have
their own recipe or they want to use one of the Palmieri recipes, we make up
a label. We make up a label that represents their grocery store, their restaurant
or whatever good thing they want to do it for and we bottle it up for ‘em.
It’s called private labeling and that’s a substantial part of our
Official Website: www.palmierifoods.com
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