Summer Garden Launches Little Italy in the Bronx Sauce
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — A new product from Summer Garden Food Manufacturing will lead to more jobs at its Boardman manufacturing plant while helping to preserve one of America’s most cherished culinary districts.
Little Italy in the Bronx pasta sauces are the culmination of a partnership between Summer Garden and the Belmont Business Improvement District, or Belmont BID, a nonprofit organization that works to preserve the traditions of the Little Italy neighborhood in the Bronx. Also known as Arthur Avenue, or “the real Little Italy,” according to residents and business owners, it has been designated a Great Street by the American Planning Association and is regularly sought out by tourists for its restaurants, handmade local and imported goods and Italian culture.
Tying the sauce to the area was a “passion project” for Summer Garden, says Mike Audi, national vice president of sales. “We kind of fell in love with the neighborhood.”
Arthur Avenue is two streets wide, three blocks long and home to third- and fourth-generation shop owners, bread makers, bakeries, cheese makers, butchers and restaurants, Audi says. Summer Garden was inspired by the culture of the district and worked with Bemont BID to roll out the product.
In December 2018, Little Italy in the Bronx pasta sauces hit the shelves of more than 4,000 stores nationwide, Audi says, generating more than $4 million in sales thus far.
“It’s probably the fastest growing sauce that we’ve ever launched,” Audi says. “The product is fantastic and the consumers have taken to it. It’s kind of taken on a life of its own.”
Based on its sales, Audi believes the Little Italy line may overtake the Gia Russa brand that has been Summer Garden’s signature line. A driving factor in the success of the sauce is its story and purpose, he says. A portion of sales generated goes to the Belmont BID to assist with infrastructure and tourism efforts to maintain the district, he says.
The board of the Belmont BID is a comprised of community members and business owners that work to preserve the historic and cultural aspects of the Little Italy district, says Frank Franz, treasurer. Such efforts include improving security and lighting for Arthur Avenue, sanitation, marketing and promotion, and hosting year-round events, Franz says.
Since the launch of the sauce, sales have generated some $48,000 for the BID to support those efforts, he notes. “In a couple years, we expect that amount will be significantly more.”
Connecting with Summer Garden was “a happy accident,” Franz says. At the same time Summer Garden was looking to put out a product linked to a community with tradition and “artisanally crafted foods,” the BID was looking for a new partner to work with and release Little Italy in the Bronx branded products to generate income for the community, he says. Through shared networks in the culinary industry, “we found each other,” he says. “It was a very fortunate circumstance.”
Before the BID agreed to link the Little Italy brand to the sauce, it was put through a round of taste tests, he says. The BID passed out hundreds of samples of sauce to board members, community residents, restaurateurs, business owners, professional critics and even Mayor Bill de Blasio.
In addition to feedback from the testers, the BID insisted that the product be made with “high-quality ingredients as specified by our community,” he says, including whole, natural products imported from Europe, particularly Italy. The sauce could not be made with sugar or tomato paste either, he says. That language was written into the contract with Summer Garden.
“It was their business plan and our desire to have a high-quality product,” Franz says. “By the time we got down to our final iteration, everybody loved the sauce.”
Demand has been strong for the sauce in Little Italy itself, he says. “We constantly get calls from people wondering where they can get it,” he says.
All Little Italy in the Bronx sauces are made with tomatoes imported from the Sarnese-Nocerino region of Italy, says Summer Garden’s Audi. The region’s climate and its soil, rich in volcanic ash, results in a naturally sweet tomato, he says.
“We don’t need to add anything to make this sauce sweet,” he says. Summer Garden doesn’t use any high-fructose corn syrup or preservatives when producing the sauce. All other ingredients, including onions, garlic and olive oil are natural.
In addition to the tomato-based varieties – tomato basil, marinara, arrabbiata, vodka and cherry tomato – Summer Garden makes an alfredo sauce with fresh cream, real butter and imported Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, he says. A basil alfredo variety is forthcoming, he says.
Belmont BID set the standards to ensure the product was in line with the name and values of the district that is known throughout the world and welcomes some 26,000 people daily to Arthur Avenue, Franz says. The fact that Summer Garden is a family-owned business was a factor in its decision because “we both have the same outlook on life,” he says.
“The family name means something to you, so you want to put out a good product,” Franz says. “Many of the businesses here are more than a century old, and their families came here from Italy where they had the same business for generations.”
Audi expects availability of the Little Italy in the Bronx product line to increase as more grocers add it to their product sheets, he says. To keep up with demand, Summer Garden is ramping up production at its Boardman facility to five or possibly six days weekly, up from four. The company looks to hire as many as 20 workers for the increased shifts as well. Summer Garden currently employs some 250, he says.
By January 2020, Summer Garden and Belmont BID plan to introduce new products to supplement the Little Italy in the Bronx product line, including a line of imported pastas, Audi says.
The signature line would include eight pasta varieties all made in the Tuscany region of Italy using Tuscan wheat, Franz says. They are also discussing a gnocchi made in the Calabria region, as well as a line of imported vinegar and cheeses.
Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
CLICK HERE to subscribe to our print edition and sign up to our free daily headlines.