Rob Salamida Interview
(Salamida's Original State Fair Spiedie Sauce)
(Salamida’s Original State Fair Spiedie Sauce)
Rob Salamida is the founder of Salamida’s (Original) State Fair Spiedie Sauce.
Up until 1975 no one had thought to bottle a marinade dressing.
Then along came Rob Salamida.
What your about to read is what it really takes to be an entrepreneur.
I’ve interviewed a lot of entrepreneurs in the past, but none went into as much detail as Rob Salamida did.
What Rob Samida did you cannot learn in a college classroom, which is odd because that’s where we start off the interview.
Q – Rob, you’re teaching a career in marketing? Where would that be?
A – I’m teaching right now at Broome Community College. It’s been around for an awful long time. I’ll give you a quick insight: when I moved back to Binghamton (N.Y.) I had just left Proctor and Gamble. I didn’t even unpack for 6 months because I was determined I would be working in either Boston or New York. A very interesting, fateful day that I wanted to in the meantime start my own advertising agency. I went to see a cousin of mine who was the General Mgr. for a Chevy dealership. I quickly told him my aspirations. I’m just trying to get something going and move to a bigger city. The guy said something to me: ‘Why not be…instead of being a little fish in a big pond, why don’t you be a big fish in a little pond?’ And that just kind of struck something. From my background, I don’t know what I wanted to be. I mean, I’d done a lot of different things. I probably when I look back at it now, yeah I had a lot of ambition, had a lot of good mentors, but, when I came back here, I remember taking a night class. I missed college. I just remember sitting in the back. The guy that was teaching this course was as boring as dirt and I remember thinking I could do a better job. So, I commend teaching a business class at BOCES. So, I’m teaching a 3 hour class at night, one night a week. 3 long hours. I think I did Small Business. In the course of the evening I would bring in one speaker. That got me started. Because I was fresh out of college I had a change from my own educational aspirations. When I was in high school I could care less. When I got into college it was like the doors opened up. I ended up being a Magna Cum Laude graduate, Pell Mell Winner. So, I did it. I enjoyed it. As I was starting my business it was a parallel. When you talk about business it also makes you formulate your own decisions based on stuff that you’re teaching. So, I’ve done it and I’m talking maybe 30 years off and on from BOCES and then I went and started doing it at the college. They would have me teach at a remote area. One time I taught at I.B.M., a marketing class or whatever the course was. Right now what I’m doing is, I’m not teaching nights, I’m teaching the 8 o’clock class at BCC two days a week. So, it’s 75 minutes and the challenge is 8 o’clock in the morning for me to be prepared and to make sure they don’t fall asleep. Last year was probably my best year because not a single kid dropped the course, and they all passed. Now, I’m strictly teaching the Marketing course and I find it very, very interesting. I’m also one of these people that when I stand up there I don’t even talk about the book. I just talk about experiences in marketing and all that and I also give these people as much advice (as I can), because growing up I learned a lot from mentors, people that I worked for.
Q – Lucky you!
A – Absolutely dead on. I mean I look back on these guys and in fact on my wall in my office I’ve got a list of all the people that I would attribute to helping my get where I am today. One was from Syracuse and when we start talking about the State Fair I’ll go into it. His name was Frank Murphy. The college is BCC.
Q – Now, how do you have time to teach a college course?
A – That’s a great question because I only do it in the Fall. I really can’t do it in the Spring. It is difficult because I find myself suddenly saying when I work at 6 o’clock at night, oh, I gotta teach tomorrow. I do a lot of preparation but, at the same time I could go in there with four things written down and I can get off on a topic and there we go. But, my goal there is to tell these kids why they’re learning something and I will say the 3 worst words you can ever say is I don’t know, because there are so many different ways to find things out. I sacrifice the time because it is a challenge. They had a 42% drop-out rate in that school and that’s why I asked to teach during the daytime.
Q – Not to put a damper on your efforts, but the Syracuse Newspapers ran a story a couple of years ago on a recent SUNY (State Of New York) graduate with a degree in Marketing. He couldn’t find a job in his field. He was working 3 jobs including unloading trucks for U.P.S. and working behind the fish counter at Wegman’s. With 3 jobs, he was barely making $400 a week. So, his degree, at least at that point, had not paid off.
A – I actually told the kids that I’d seen something quite radical on the internet. I forgot where I got this. This guy did this diatribe on how college is one of the most unfavourable situations for young kids because of what it costs today versus 20 years ago. How do they substitute this high cost of going to college, plus most of these kids end up with debt and there’s no jobs. I think there’s going to be a paradigm shift. I told these kids the first day: the difference between high school and college is we don’t care. We don’t care if you pass or fail. It’s all up to you now. In high school they want to see you get off to college. Basically you have to work to do this yourself. And, that’s how it is for the rest of your life. But, anyway this school for what it costs I think is a terrific bargain. Unless you want to be a doctor or unless you have this profession you want to go into, then you’ve got to do that and it’s a harder challenge. But, the debt is definitely a concern.
Q – You were 16 years old and you were cooking Spiedie Sandwiches in Endicott, New York, on a charcoal grill in front of a tavern. What is a Spiedie Sandwich? Is there actually someone named Spiedie?
A – Spiedie is actually a derivative of the word Spiedini. Basically, it means a spit, or a skewer. So, it’s just taking a word and changing it to make it that thing with the food you’ll find it in Italy. I’ve actually seen a picture in Italy that I guess my forefathers were from ironically Spiedo. Basically Spiedie is how I spell a Spiedie. That’s the anglicized method. So, to be specific, no it’s not named after an individual. It’s named basically after how it was developed, you’re going back centuries. You’re talking about how did you cook meat in the old days. Well, you didn’t hold it over the fire, you used like a tree branch. The tree branch might have been called a spit. So, when you think of the cattlemen in those westerns and they’ve got that big iron thing and they’re turning it slowly, well, now you want to have a smaller piece. So, it’s almost like roasting marshmallows, but, you’re using something to hold the meat over the fire. Now, that’s Part One. Part two is that the meat is marinated and a marinade is an oil and vinegar concoction that for many people at times in history that is how you preserved the meat. The acid in the vinegar would prevent any bacterial growth. It’s the same way they brine things so, let’s just say a marinade is a more flavourful brine without the harsh acid taste, but, enough to more or less keep the meat preserved. The Italian version, the Greek version and the Arab version are all about the same. This is basically what the Middle East people would call a kabob, a shish ke bob. Same word. Shish versus spit. So, a Spiedie is more of an Italian version of a shisk ke bob. They didn’t necessarily originate in Endicott, New York but they became more common place. What I was doing when I was 15 or 16 years old selling the skewered meat in a sandwich over a charcoal grill, that’s what a lot of the old timers were doing that worked in the E.J. Shoe Factory to supplement their income. So, you would see these old guys sitting out there with maybe a glass of beer, with a little charcoal grill and they had their famous secret recipe or family recipe. So, Rob Salamida came along and someone had given him this idea. I remember the guy who told me this. He was in a restaurant and he said, ‘Why don’t you sell spiedies in front of a bar’? It was like I’m not a food guy. Well, long story short I went to a local butcher and he made meat for me. I got some skewers. I sat in front of a bar and started selling them. The first time I officially did it was in my Senior year in high school. I did it that whole summer. At the end of the Summer I went to the State Fair (New York State Fair, Syracuse, N.Y.). Now, let me give you a very important element; when I was a kid we used to go to Ocean City, New Jersey for a family vacation. My Dad was fortunate enough to work at I.B.M. And, there’s 5 kids. Seven of us would pack into a station wagon and go down to Ocean City. I remember my Dad and older brother walking ahead of me on the Boardwalk. My Dad, always the thinker of business said, ‘Boy, if someone had a Spiedie stand on, the Boardwalk they’d make a fortune!’ I’m thinking that would be a great idea. Then my brother said, ‘Well, don’t tell Rob because then he’ll tell everybody the idea.’ (Laughs). So, the next morning I got up and walked to the downtown area and I went to every real estate office I could find. I asked how do you get a place on the boardwalk? The response I remember was, ‘You gotta wait ‘til somebody dies’. So, I had this idea that I was gonna be the guy selling Spiedies on the Boardwalk someday. So, a few years later I went up to the State Fair. I just happened to go with a girlfriend and her parents. I’m walking around and I’m thinking wow!! I’ve been selling Spiedies in front what if I sold them at the State Fair? That way if they work here I could get a place on the Boardwalk someday. You find that no one knows what Spiedies are outside of Binghamton, New York and sometimes in Binghamton they didn’t know what they were.
Q – Before you get into the State Fair story, you were making this sauce in your parent’s basement Rec room on a plywood covered pool table.
A – But, not then.
Q – That was when you were starting out?
A – No.
Q – You were taking the product out of your parents home and putting it in the trunk of your car.
A – Years later.
Q – I wondered how you could do that without the Health Dept. inspections.
A – Here’s what happened: When I was selling Spiedies in front of the bar I was buying the meat already made. I had no idea how to make the meat. I’d never even thought about it. I was just thinking a few dollars a night. Then I go away to college. Now, this is obviously right after I went to the State Fair and so I wrote them (the New York State Fair) a letter when I was in college. I said I’d like to get a place in the Fair. I told them my idea and a few weeks later I got a letter back and said, ‘Sorry, there’s nothing available’. So, the next month I wrote another letter. I said look, I just want a very small spot. When I did it in front of the bar I’m in a five foot square area. I got an outside in front of a bar. They wrote back again in 1971 and said, ‘Sorry, nothings available’. So, Christmas time I write them again. They write back, and this is Mr. Potter. Mr Potter (State Fair Director) was in charge. And so, I kept on writing maybe six letters, seven letters. They kept on writing back saying no. So, my first year of college is over and that Summer there I am selling Spiedies in front of bars. Now, I’ve expanded. I’ve got two different places with some other friends helping me do another spot. So, I’m becoming a little more enthused about it. So, it’s August 23rd 1971 and my older brother is flying out of the airport, he’s in the Navy. And everyone in the family is gonna drive up to the airport (Hancock International Airport, Syracuse, N.Y. ) to see him off. I keep on driving past the airport past Syracuse and for the very first time I find the Administration Building (at the New York State Fairgrounds) and walk in and I meet Dorothy I can see her face, the sweetest face I can remember. I cannot remember her name, Palakavich, something like that. And as soon as she heard my name she smiled. And so I asked her I’d like to see Mr. Potter. So, Bernie Potter sits down with me and now they see the kid behind the letter. He finally says, ‘Alright, look, we’ll find you a place’. But, he’s very, very hesitant of doing this. I’m 19 years old and who is this kid? I am sure to this day that Dorothy had a lot to do with it. I said I just want an 8 by 8 foot area. I’ll build my own stand. So, he must’ve said this is one determined kid. He said. ‘Alright you can sell your Spiedie sandwiches and nothing else’. Now, that was the kicker. Bless her heart, Dorothy the secretary said, ‘Well, he should be selling some soda’. Well, Potter says ‘No”. She said, ‘He really should sell a drink’. He said ‘o.k.’ Now, they find the guy who was in charge of the field and he drives my way out to the boondocks. You may remember this: The Variety Showcase and north of it was the Indian Village and south of it was the big Horse Barn. It was a red building. That was behind me. They gave me a little piece of grass on the corner, near the corner and it was right next to the De Lavalle Building which is where they De Lavalle milking demonstrations. And this gant lemon drove me down there and he said this is the spot Mr. Potter is going to give you. He wished me well. They probably figured once he realized what he’s into, and I think the rent was $900; so, I remember driving home and I floated all the way. I was so excited. And then suddenly the logistics (hit me) of how am I going to do this? I had no idea. I had 8 days to get ready. That’s the important thing. I had 8 days. My poor Dad, God Bless him, he kind of looked at me and must’ve thought ‘What am I going to do with this kid’? Suffice it to say in 8 days we designed a little building made out of two by fours. But, here’s the important thing that day or maybe it was the next day I went back up there to measure everything and because Dorothy had gotten me the soda, I went walking around trying to find someone from the soda co. And there’s Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola basically dominated the State Fair in Syracuse at the time. I went up to a guy in a truck and I said, ‘Excuse me, I’m gonna be getting a place here. Is it o.k. of I buy Coca-Cola from you people’? They said, ‘No. We’re really too busy. Why don’t you go find Pepsi’. Again, they’re looking at a 19 year old skinny kid thinking who the heck are you? They literally pushed me away. So, now I’m walking around, looking for Pepsi. I’m now realizing it never occurred to me, where am I going to get all my supplies? And, here’s the man, I probably owe him more than I could ever estimate. I even got choked up when I think about this guy. Frank Murphy was the Sales Manager for Pepsi. A big-hearted guy that looked at me. He said, ‘We’ll take care of you’. We come up there a couple of days later and start assembling this wooden frame. Frank Murphy comes by: he’d already talked to me about this is how you should do this; with some aluminum panels that were counter tops. They were temporaries. He gets me those. He gets me the signs ‘I got a sign guy’. Then he gets me brand new soda coolers, the Bev. Coolers, the ones that opened up like an ice-cream thing. I didn’t even realize I gotta get soda. I have to have refrigeration for the meat. Again, old man Potter probably figured this kid he won’t even get past the front door once he realizes how much work it’s gonna be. So, Frank Murphy helped me, like he was an uncle. So, with that behind me, the next thing I need is bread. I contact a local bakery who said they will send over one of their trucks. Then they reneged at the last minute. So then they said we have a guy deliver your bread when you need it. So, now I rent a van from a Ford dealer. I’m now starting to do all the logistics. And think about it, I never even realized when am I gonna sleep? (Laugs). You’re not leaving. You’re not going to commute. Alright, I get a sleeping bag and I had a kid that grew up next door to me, no, I take that back. I had my younger brother who said he would work and the girlfriend I had, she said alright I’ve got an aunt. I’ll stay at her house and help you in the daytime. So, we got the sign up and I remember up there the Pepsi salesman that would bring me my stuff and call it Speidie. Every day ‘Spiedie, wake up’! because we had our building all tarped up. So anyway we started. We’re doing o.k. I wouldn’t know how to measure it against anything. Well two days later I’m waiting for the bread truck to come from Binghamton. It’s a Wednesday morning and they guy hasn’t shown up and everything had been pre-arranged and now it’s noon. I call up and that’s when a long distance call cost you money. (Laughs). Like eighty cents, dollar and a quarter. So, I ended up getting panicky at 4 o’clock ‘cause I only had 5,6,7 loaves of bread left and where is this guy? In fact, I had even less than that. So, I start walking around to see if I could buy some other bread. On the phone they said, ‘He’s on his way. He left this morning’. Now, the guy never shows up. I went to every single restaurant on the Fairgrounds asking can I buy some bread from you? and they all said no. They were busy and who are you? No. You can imagine how devastated I was feeling, the panic. I just couldn’t believe how this happened to me after all the work and effort. So, very dejected I head back to my stand, and it’s like a gift from God because as I’m walking down the street maybe 200 yards from where I’m going to end up, I believe I see a red bread truck driving away. Kauffman Bread from Rochester (New York). They had come into Syracuse to see if they could drum up some business. I sprinted. I caught up to this truck and sure enough he had bread for me. I had enough to get by. That night I went into Solvay (New York) to a bakery and bought 5 more loaves. The Kauffman guy said he would come back. I’m thinking yeah, like the other guy. Anyway, we salvage that headache. We slept on the ground. I think back then in the 70’s, the Fair went 7 days. Everyday Frank Murphy would come by to see how I was doing. One night, somebody snuck in our stand and stole all the soda we had. (Laughs). They literally, whoever they were, crept right by us to reach in and take the soda. You’d maybe be up to 1 o’clock cleaning. You’d finally get in your sleeping bag and a few hours later you’d hear the rakes go by as all the workers are raking the grounds, right near you. And then an hour or two hours later that big street cleaner would come down and my head was literally 8 or 10 inches from the curb. This guy is goin’ right by sweeping up the streets. Then a few hours later, 4:30, 5 in the morning was the 4-H kids with all their animals. Suffice it to say, you didn’t get a lot of sleep. The Fair ended. Everybody was home. I’m the last guy there. I’ve dis-assembled everything. It’s all loaded. The truck is loaded up to the top. And now I’ve got the Pepsi panels, everything there. I’m gonna go find Frank Murphy to let him know and thank him. I’m done. I’m driving around the perimeter road that all of James E. Strates cars, trucks and trailers are lined up. As I’m looking for the Pepsi truck this woman is coming towards me and there’s a big pot hole. Instead of staying on her side of the road she kind of comes on my side of the road. To avoid hitting her I turn sharply and I nick a trailer corner, a truck trailer. I get out. I look at this damage I may have done on this door of the van. From there I drive home. When it was all done my total profit was $282.00 and I brought the van over and it cost about $285.00 to have the door fixed. When it was all said and done and I said I’m going to do it next year, my father said, ‘You made beans. You didn’t make any money’. No. I’m going to do it again. So, that was my first year experience.
Q – Your State Fair experience tells me if you knew in advance the work involved, you wouldn’t have done it.
A – I know I couldn’t do it today. I think it was Oscar Wilde who said, ‘I’m not young enough to know how smart I am’. When you’re at that age, you think you know everything. Well, back then I didn’t know the difference. 95% of all business decisions are emotional.
Q – How long did you continue to set up at the New York State Fair?
A – Well, I started in ’71, but, in ’74 I graduated from college. I was now out working for Proctor and Gamble. I lived on the road and basically was all done with the State Fair until the next year. I left Proctor and Gamble to start my own business. In fact, when I called up the headquarters I asked my supervisor, the Top guy of the department, have you ever heard of Spiedies? He said No. I said I have an idea. If it doesn’t work, can I come back and work here? And , he refuses. So, I felt like a guy hanging on a ledge. He just stomped on my fingers and off I went into the deep, dark space of self-enterprise. So, I asked if I could get my space back in 1975 and they said yes. In 1975, something was going on in Syracuse, in as much as I understood, the Health Dept. and the County were arguing over it’s jurisdiction with the State Ag. (Agriculture) Dept. as to who had the right to inspect the concessions. Consequently I got inspected most every day. At the same time we had this horrific storm.
Q – I don’t remember a storm hitting the Fair in 1975.
A – In ’75, on Opening Day around 10:30 in the morning the sky turned black and I remember the carnies came by and warned me. They said, ‘You better tie down your stand. There’s some very big winds coming’. About a half an hour later the rain and the wind came. Our hand built stand levitated. The wind was so fierce, that the front of our stand started to lift up. I’ll never forget it. It was that fierce. I remember the rain was coming in sideways like bullets. As two of us are holding on to the posts that’s got this thing together, it started to rock in the wind, some kid comes running across in the rain and he sits on our counter to keep it stable. That storm turned everything …..the streets were full of water and mud on our grass where we were located. Then a couple hours later, another storm came. Same thing. That was the year my Dad suffered a heart attack. So, he wasn’t around. He did not help me build the stand that year. He didn’t die, but, he was quite sick. I have this look on my face like this is the Opening Day and I can’t believe I’m doing this. I can’t believe I left my job back home to do this. So, let’s just say it was the bottom of everything. Now, it’s a 10 day Fair. I’ve got to sleep on the ground and it’s mud. We’d gotten some bales of hay. I was quite anxious at the time. And, that’s when I got this idea. This voice in my head said put the sandwich in a bottle. So remember the original idea was to go to the State Fair to see if it would be and opportunity to take my idea and make a permanent location some place on a Boardwalk or even starting a chain of restaurants. That was the whole premise, to see if you could temporarily at a State Fair and draw people in and sell your product. Well now, in 1975, in the middle of this storm I’m thinking. It just popped in my head to bottle the marinade and not try to be a fast food franchise. So, out of that adversity that’s where that idea germinated. Over the Winter I started working on coming up with a marinade and I had nothing to work with. I just kind of made it up. I got my mother’s basic homemade recipe and played around with the vinegars and everything else and I did it on a table.
Q – In the Rec. room that we talked about earlier.
A – Yeah. I did it in our basement. We have a walk-out basement and there was a little Rec room there with a pool table. I put a sheet of plywood over it. I bought bottles from a distributor and one by one I made the sauce. I put all the ingredients in separately and that’s how I started.
Q – Where did the money come from to buy the bottles? Did you make money at the ’75 Fair?
A – Well, I made a little money. I got a shocker for you. As I’m working on this idea I get a letter and the letter is from New York State Health Dept. that I had 14 violations of the local county health code. The penalties were $1,000 a piece. And, they were repetitive and they were insane. I didn’t have any Hot and Cold running water. Well, it’s a temporary stand. I didn’t have any cleanable floor surface. So, that’s why this individual from the Health Dept. kept on coming. He came at midnight one time. And, he wrote me up again. So, now I’m faced with a hearing that I have to go to Syracuse and pay $14,000 if I’m found guilty. I went out and find a lawyer. I keep on thinking it’s so incredulous. Here I am trying to start a business and all of a sudden there’s a $14,000 fine. I don’t have that money. We go to Syracuse and even the lawyer is very suspect of this. I think he was a $150 an hour and I’ve got to drive him up to Syracuse. I didn’t speed, but, I didn’t slow down either. On top of that on the way home there was a horrific snow storm. The hearing was in January. I think he got everything reduced to like $1,400 and all the other vendors that had gotten citations, somehow, all those other guys were exonerated. No one else got penalized just me. Bit, those were the days when you had a set-back you didn’t realize it was a set-back. You just thought that’s how the game was played. So, between ’75 and ’76, over the Winter is when I’m trying to design a label. I’m trying to figure out how to go sell it. Plus, I had a job working at my Uncle’s luggage store. Oddly enough, the hardest thing I had was how do you make it? How do you bottle it? What kind of equipment do you use? You just can’t do this forever by hand. So, I didn’t put a lot of money into equipment. The first grocery chain I went to; I brought it into the owner and I put the bottle on his desk and he smiled and said, ‘I’ve been waiting for somebody to do this someday’. And that was a huge sigh of relief because another grocery guy I had worked for when I showed it to him said, ‘It’ll never sell’. He had one store, like a mom and pops but he said, ‘It’ll never sell. People make their own recipe’. Sometimes your mentors give you the wrong advice. That’s how I got rolling. I’d make it and put 5 or 6 cases in the trunk of my car and I’d go around to the stores on my lunch hour from my regular job where I’d go out on Saturday s and sell ‘em one case at a time. One case. Back then it was $6.77. They were the small 8 ounce bottles. Eventually it grew and I went to a larger bottle. I got some good publicity in a local newspaper. I was very, very consistent on my recipe. I didn’t let anybody change anything. In ’76 I turned the lemons into lemonades. I went back to the Fair Officials and they were very upset by what had happened.
Q – Shouldn’t they have told you that you needed running water?
A – Well, it was impossible. That’s when the State was saying we’re not giving the running water. We can’t. And the county was saying well, those are our rules. It was a ruse. Probably the Democrats against the Republicans at that time. That’s a joke. You can’t have hot and cold running water on temporary food. It wasn’t even in their rules. So, they were playing some games and I think I was the first guinea pig. After that they said, o.k. we’re just there trying to make a point. But, here’s what happened: I go back to the Fair officials and they’re on my side, but, I turned it into lemonade. I said, ‘Would you let me build a permanent stand’? And this is when Tom Young became they guy in charge. I’ll never forget this because now I’m going to build my own stand. I’m buying fresh cut lumber. It’s thick like oak that they use for pallets. When you pound a nail in it, it would squirt you in the eye ‘cause the wood was so green. I get up and there and I pay for all this. I have a concrete pad put in. I designed the building myself like I was building a house. It had windows that swing open. I put my own roof on. And now it’s a dash trying to get it done before the Fair opens. It was quite a struggle. Opening day of the State Fair, I’ll never forget it, I’m on the roof pounding on the last few nails and securing my signs up there, and up comes Tom Young in a golf cart. I knew that once you built a permanent building there they owned it. Tom Young comes by and says, ‘Hey, Salamida that looks really great’. I said, ‘Thank-You’. He said, ‘Maybe next year my brother will have it’. (Laughs). He was just joking. So, I was there in ’76 with a brand new building so I could say to the Health Dept. – There’s my floor. Then I n1983, I believe that was my last year.
Q – Did the Health Dept. also want Hot and Cold running water?
A – No. You had water from a source. We had it right in the building next to us. There was a spigot. That was for a permanent restaurant. All those joints you used to see with the carnival that did the sausage? They didn’t have hot water. They were on the black top. The Strates Shows didn’t get in trouble. Just Rob Salamida for some reason. To this day I don’t know if a couple other guys got picked on either. So now I keep on doing it every year. I’m now putting my sauce on the counter and showing people the sauce and that’s how o grew from Syracuse. But, in 1983 we were there for the last time. Three days after Christmas in 1983 I get a phone call from somebody on the Fairgrounds saying, ‘You oughta come up here. We had a tornado on Christmas Day’. Do you remember a tornado on Christmas Day?
Q – I can’t say that I do.
A – I’m thinking well, what’s this about? I’m sitting in my apartment. It’s the dead of winter and I said, ‘You had a what’? They guy said, ‘Your building is gone Mr. Salamida’. I said, What do you mean? He said, ‘We had a tornado up here. Your building is gone.’ Now again the politics. Somebody wanted my spot. I drove up there a couple of days later and all that was left there was the pad and a few pieces of wood. It was gone. I’m looking around thinking, ‘Who did this to me’? But, then I looked and I saw the old-fashion telephone booth that were on a steel pole and they were bent over. So, they had some type of freak storm that went up there. I did see damage. I saw roofs up there had been blown apart. So, it’s a little know thing and maybe it touched down briefly but my building was gone. I remember looking at it and I didn’t really have a tear in my eye but for me, from a business standpoint something had just passed. I remember I just kept looking at it and I got back in my car and drove home. I never really looked back but I was very grateful for the years at the State Fair. I had been suspicious because I’d been told things like that will happen. It wasn’t like there was a half a building left. I saw a few shards of wood. As far as I was concerned they weren’t lying. I remember thinking I could understand a tornado in August, but on Christmas Day? It’s odd they took my spot and put restrooms there. (Laughs). They made those changes. But frankly I was ready to move on. I go up there once a year now and I do a free give-away. We cook Spiedies and hand them out in the Horticulture Bldg. (New York State Fair). We’re there on a Saturday and we have our grills outside and we give free samples of our cooked Spiedies. It’s part of the Pride of New York. It’s not a cooking demonstration. Thousands of people line-up just to take a sample of the cooked Spiedie. Great p.r. for us. It’s expensive ‘cause you’re giving away meat. I look back fondly and think we should really be back here selling. Now I can tell you it’s an awful lot of work. Tremendous. Just to find a place. I give these people a lot of credit who do work there. Then you have your rain days and all that. My epic journey in the fairgrounds ended. Along the way I met Dr. Bob Baker from Baker’s Chicken Coop. Now, he was a Cornell professor. I remember talking to him. A very nice man and his wife and they knew I bottled the marinade. Bob’s wife told me, ‘Bob’s got a whole barn full of empty aerosol cans that he was going to make his chicken barbeque sauce in and spray it’. (Laughs). Did anyone tell him the aerosol would catch on fire? But, subsequently I started making his sauce. Not in his name and not his exact recipe, ‘cause that was always the exotic smell on the fairgrounds. You’d get there in the morning and you could smell the chicken cooking. Because of the volume, he has to cook it way off in the corner and then he brings it in. But, in the beginning he was cooking it right there with the charcoal. But, the smell, the aroma when they started cooking was just phenomenal. The guy across the street from me was Carmen Basilio Sausage. Coleman’s was there. What was odd about my operation is I slept in the stand, even when we had the permanent one. You’d have a cot there and in the morning you’d put everything back in the truck. But, that’s where we slept. Here’s another interesting thing: you used to have in your town a place called Pilgrim Franks. One of my early years up there I bought Pilgrim Franks very inexpensively. It had been very slow. I wanted to get rid of these hot dogs so I put a sign up ‘Three For A Dollar’ just to get rid of them. The lady next door to me had a small stick joint. Very nice people. And she came over and said, ‘You know Rob, that’s really not going to help you putting them on sale’. I said, ‘Why not’? Because it was a big news story here that they found rats in Pilgrim Franks facility. (Laughs). So, here I am promoting something that was an anathema to the public.
Q – How many bottles of you Spiedie sauce have you sold? Any idea?
A – I would say at least 10 million.
Q – Is this a product that’s sold all over the world?
A – No. It’s a product that’s sold in grocery stores right now from Maine to Florida. Not in every store but in a lot of chains.
Q – So, you can’t get your product in the mid-west, the southwest or the west.
A – No. We haven’t gotten there yet. That’s something we’re definitely looking forward to. We are now ready to expand because we have up-graded our facility. Quite honestly, for 14 years we were making the Wegman’s private label. We made all of their marinades in several different sizes. Because we were so involved with Wegman’s in developing their marinade and packing them, under their brand, until they took it to Canada. They ended up getting our recipes and letting us go and took it over the border, from what we were told. That 14 year stint economically was very good, but, we didn’t focus on our own brand as much as we did on Wegman’s. But, we’re none worse for the wear because sometimes other guys they end up getting into trouble when they just dedicate themselves to one product. For us it was good business and we’re grateful to Wegman’s that we had that opportunity. We stopped making theirs I believe in 2005. Now, we’ve been fucusing on our own products more and more distribution.
Q – How are you advertising your product?
A – Well, we’ve always been with public radio. Always given to their auctions and always advertised on the new shows. We’ve done billboards in Syracuse. We’ve done radio commercials. We’ve done t.v. off and on. We’re not heavy advertisers right now. Part of the reason is doing business in the grocery stores is quite expensive. You’re paying a lot of un-expected costs. So, it really eats into your budget.
Q – You have to pay extra for that prime space don’t you?
A – No more. Now the grocery stores dictate what’s going to be on that shelf. They can track things a lot better. What you’ll do is pay to be on the end cap a lot of times with a promotion, but, you’re paying these ancillary costs that you never did before. You pay for merchandising which means nothing. You’re paying for someone to take it out of the backroom and put it on a shelf. You’re paying for any damages if little Johnny goes down the aisle and knocks three bottles off the shelf, they charge me for that. So, that’s kind of put a crimp into a lot of your promotional monies. But, as far as any other advertising I’d like to come up with some new ideas. I’d like to venture into more publicity.
Q – What’s an end cap?
A - When you go up and down a grocery aisle, when you get to the end of the aisle and you traverse the next aisle, when you go around the end of the aisle that’s called an end cap. That’s where they put their specials on, their feature.
Q – You have your own factory in Endicott, N.Y. where you make your Spiedie Sauce?
A – Our own factory began in 1977. A year after I bought a building that had two other tenants. I took a corner and rented the rest out to them, ‘cause again it was seasonal. And a few years later I took a little more space. I’m one of the few manufacturers that makes it himself. A lot of guys have an outside co-packer make it for them.
Q – You’re right there to insure Quality Control!
A – Absolutely. We do it to the point where we don’t let anybody blend out spices and buy it pre-packaged. We do everything ourselves.
Q – How big would you like to see your co. get?
A – Great question. I would like to grow in stages. What we’d like to do next is to expand and double our sales. One of the really important facts is this: our business for maybe the first 10 years had all the business headaches and heartaches, but, more critical was the seasonality of the product. You didn’t sell anything in the cold winter months up here. So you really didn’t have a sales force you could hire year ‘round. You didn’t have a labor force year round. For many years the grocery stores would just not carry your product after Labor Day. So what it made me do; I had other businesses that I would use to keep cash flow coming in but subsequently it would create more business time that I had to devote to the other businesses. I had restaurants to catering cos. and a retail store. So, I literally had my hands full. One time I had five different businesses going. I look back an I say that was the scaffolding that I had when I was building my factory because those little businesses help support the main business. The more I pushed to keep my product on the shelf, little by little it started to work. I’m gonna say 10 years after we were getting out product on the shelf year round. Even though your sales weren’t booming in December, came out with mail order products, came out with a Spiedie Survival Kit, a gift pack based on a woman who wrote me a letter from Charlotte, North Carolina saying, ‘Help! I’m all out of Spiedie Sauce’. Then the website started growing it. We do an awful lot of business with people all over the country. A lot of the people that have left New York (State) want Spiedie Sauce. They want to show off to their neighbours in Missouri or Florida or California - ‘Italy, let me show you what we have back home’. We recently got a request from someone in one of the colleges; they want to do stuff for the military. The military personnel they talk to said can you send us Salamida’s Spiedie Sauce? One of the things we’ve done, even before we heard about this is anybody in the military stationed overseas we’ve always sent them stuff at no charge.
Official website: www.spiedie.com
© Gary James All Rights Reserved