Store-Bought Specialties with Mahoning Valley Flavor
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Some small businesses start in the kitchen.
Their primary product could be a sauce, an appetizer or even a dessert, usually based on a family recipe that is too good not to offer to the public.
There are currently at least a dozen locally-made and packaged specialty foods available in Mahoning Valley stores and from websites. They’re based on recipes perfected by residents, organizations and restaurants, with a preponderance of tomato sauces and a few niche products.
The granddaddy of them all is the Our Lady of Mount Carmel spaghetti dinner sauce.
First mass-produced in 2008, the sauce is quite likely the first local product still on the market and the only one that gives all of its profits to charity.
The idea was born at least 15 years ago, when Monsignor Michael Cariglio, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Basilica in Youngstown, started seeing Paul Newman Salad Dressing in grocery stores.
He asked John Zidian, founder of what is now Summer Garden Food Manufacturing of Boardman, about making and marketing the sauce.
Zidian liked the idea but it didn’t gain traction until his son, Tom, took over the company after his father’s death.
“He called me and said, ‘Let’s give it a try,’” Cariglio says. “I shared our recipe, which we had for a good hundred-plus years. The women in our parish had been doing spaghetti dinners for about 60 years at the time with that recipe. It had been in the family and we made sure it was preserved.”
Summer Garden used the recipe to develop several versions of the sauce at the company’s kitchens, and brought in Cariglio and a few parishioners who were involved in the spaghetti dinners to taste them and pick the one closest to the original.
In the 14 years since it hit store shelves, Our Lady of Mount Carmel sauce has raised over $160,000 for the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Youngstown, and other charities.
“It is very high-quality,” Cariglio says. “Nothing is artificial. It’s all fresh ingredients.”
Over the years, the church added three other sauces: marinara, white and the newest, arrabiata.
“[Summer Garden] came to me and said there is a market for a spicy sauce, which in Italian we call ‘arrabiata,’ or ‘angry,’ ” Cariglio says.
A fourth sauce is in the works.
“We are considering doing a pizza sauce to benefit St. Anthony’s Church on Brier Hill,” Cariglio says.
The Diocese of Youngstown operates a school for low-income students at St. Anthony’s, which has long been known for the unique Brier Hill pizza that it sells. The sauce, which is sweetened with cooked peppers, is a key feature of that pizza, which has become a signature of Youngstown.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel sauce is just one of more than 20 products cooked, packaged and distributed by Summer Garden Food Manufacturing at its Boardman plant.
The company, which is also known for its Gia Russa line of Italian foods, makes products on a contract basis for restaurants and other businesses from Cleveland to Pittsburgh.
The list includes tomato sauce from Aqua Pazzo Restaurant in Boardman, which, like Sumer Garden, is part of the Zidian Group; Vernon’s Café, Niles; the former Alberini’s Restaurant, Niles; and Mama Pia’s, New Castle, Pa.
Summer Garden not only makes the products but assists each company or organization in every other way. That includes bottling, labels and packaging, distribution and marketing.
“Distribution is a big piece of what makes us so valuable to startups,” says Doug Koller, director of Zidian Specialty Foods.
“We can walk them through how to go to market and promotional programs, and introduce them to retailers.”
Summer Garden also makes and distributes wing sauces for Quaker Steak and Lube, Sharon, Pa.; chili sauce for MP Coney Island Hot Dogs, New Castle, Pa.; Italian dressing for LaRocca’s Restaurant, Poland; and G. Hughes sugar-free barbeque and marinade sauces and Guy’s BBQ Sauce, Newton Falls.
While most of these products are distributed in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, Summer Garden has taken G. Hughes sugar-free sauces national – and found a strong market.
“It’s the No. 4 selling barbecue line in the country,” Koller says. “It resonates with anyone looking to cut back on sugar.”
Guy Hughes, whose Guy’s BBQ trucks are a popular fixture at local festivals, developed the sugar-free sauce.
PAPA CANZONETTA’S PEPPERS
Italian-style peppers in oil have been a big part of Jeff Canzonetta’s life since he was 12. That’s when he started helping his late father, Fred, make the specialty food that has long been a Mahoning Valley specialty.
“I started as a young man growing up in Warren,” he says. “We gave out so many jars of these over the years.”
For the past seven years, Canzonetta has been making and selling the product under his Papa Canzonetta’s label. His company hit high gear about two years ago when he found a manufacturer – Byler’s Relish House of Cochranton, Pa. – and increased his output and distribution footprint.
Papa Canzonetta’s peppers now come in three varieties – original, mild and hot – and are sold in Giant Eagle and Sparkle markets, farm markets, and online at PapaCanz.com.
“My father originated this recipe,” Canzonetta says. “It’s the result of a long crusade to get it just right – how much salt, vinegar, oregano, seasonings. We figured it out.”
Peppers in oil can be found on many restaurant tables in the area, but Canzonetta will put his up against anyone’s. “I feel I have the best in the U.S.A.,” he says.
His three varieties suit any palate or tolerance for heat.
“A 4-year-old can eat the mild ones like candy,” he says. “The regular style doesn’t take you overboard. But the hot goes to the next level. It lingers with you.”
Peppers in oil are often served fresh, but Papa Canzonetta’s is a cooked product. That makes for a more complex flavor and a much longer shelf life. It also makes the product compatible with many other foods as a topping or an ingredient.
“It goes with eggs, sausage, pizza…,” Canzonetta says. “I have it on pancakes and in a cheesecake. It’s surprising how good that is. It can go in a dip.”
Some of these recipes are posted on his website, and more will be added.
Canzonetta, who lives in Hubbard, calls his company “a grassroots operation.” His two salespeople “have been hitting the streets, doing tastings and demonstrations in stores.” As a result, business has exploded.
“We saw an 800% rise in [year-to-year] sales,” he says.
He is already looking to expand sales into the Pittsburgh area. Canzonetta has most recently added four varieties of rubs to his product line and plans to start selling gift baskets.
SWEET JANE ELDERBERRY
One of the more unusual locally made products is Sweet Jane Elderberry syrup.
It’s not a food specialty but a healthful elixir with the consistency of fruit juice and a pleasing flavor. A tablespoonful a day boosts the immune system and fights off colds, says Carly Gable of Poland, inventor of the syrup and owner of the company.
The secret is the elderberry.
“It’s high in vitamins A, B and C and antioxidants,” Gable says. “It’s proven to stop sickness or shorten the duration.”
The ingredients also include cinnamon, ginger, cloves and local honey. Gable and some of her family members take it straight, while children might mix it with smoothies, chocolate milk or other drinks.
“It’s so easy to take every day because it tastes good,” she says.
Gable was introduced to health food years ago by her mother, Marsha Karzmer of Boardman.
“My mother is a big advocate for natural living,” Gable says. “She started the first home study group for homeopathic products in Youngstown in the 1980s.”
Gable has two preschool-age children and started making elderberry syrup because of them.
“It’s an all-natural and organic way to boost the immune system,” she says. “We noticed a big difference. We were catching fewer colds and with the pandemic, we wanted to share.”
Gable started Sweet Jane in September 2020, producing it in the commercial kitchen of chef Jeff Chrystal in Youngstown.
She spread the word through social media and now sells her product from her website, SweetJaneElderberry.com, and at local stores and gatherings.
“We ship it across the country,” she says. Customers can also get regular shipments through a subscription.
While elderberry syrups are popular among health-food aficionados, and there are multiple brands, Gable says Sweet Jane is different.
“We make it in small batches and it’s fresh, with no preservatives or fillers,” she says. The mass-produced products may also contain chemicals and extra sugar, says the Youngstown State University graduate.
Amanda and Barry Frank of Austintown have been helping cooks spice up their recipes since 2015.
That’s when they launched Joe Schmo’s Kitchen, which sells hot pepper jellies, peppers in oil, seasonings, and gourmet flavored sea salts. The Franks plan to add a hot sauce and a hot pepper mustard in the near future.
The couple, which works out of the Common Wealth Kitchen Incubator on Elm Street in Youngstown, launched their company from a recipe they perfected.
“We always took our hot pepper jelly with us to parties,” Amada Frank says. “Someone mentioned to us that if we decided to produce it, he could get it [on the shelves of] his butcher shop, so we decided to give it a shot.”
Sales increased during the pandemic. “People are using our products more now that they are staying home more,” she says.
Joe Schmo’s products are sold in 53 stores and eateries in the area and online at JoeSchmosKitchen.com.
As for the name, Frank says it came up when they were thinking of what to call their company.
“I said, ‘No one will know us, we are just a Joe Schmo,” she says.
The company’s logo plays along with that theme. It’s a drawing of a chef holding up a bowl that obscures his face. Next to it is his hand-written signature, with a question mark forming the J.
Pictured: Jeff Canzonetta stirs up a batch of Papa Canzonetta’s Italian-style peppers in oil.
Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.