Patrick Palmieri Interview
(Palmieri Food Products)

Continuing our look at pasta sauces, we focus on what has become a “New Haven Original”-----Palmieri Pasta Sauces, just part of Palmieri Food Products.

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 the money.

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 business.

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