Pouring it on thick!

Labor of love leads to thriving pasta sauce business.

When Paolo Volpati-Kedra met his future wife, Tessa Edick, in 1996, the Milan, Italy, native wooed his American love with pasta — or, more specifically, the homemade pasta sauces he created to top each bowl.

“I had to do the Italian thing for Tessa and impress her,” recalled Volpati-Kedra, 30, a self-taught cook who grew up watching his father prepare “outstanding” meals.
That first dish was pasta Bolognese. By the time the couple married the following year, Volpati-Kedra had expanded his repertoire, and the newlyweds soon were feeding hungry friends nearly every night of the week.

“They came for the sauce,” said Edick, 32, who after a while began sending jars home with dinner guests so the couple would have a few nights to themselves.

They wouldn’t sell the sauces to friends, preferring to give it away. But the enthusiastic response to Volpati-Kedra’s cooking boiled over into a business idea.

In 1999, the couple co-founded Sauces ‘n Love Inc. (named to commemorate the company’s romantic beginnings) to sell the sauces. With Volpati-Kedra in the kitchen and Edick handling marketing, they have grown the company to 11 employees working from 2,300 square feet of commercial kitchen space in the Union Square section of Somerville.

By selling their pasta sauces primarily through high-end gourmet food stores, the company last year generated $113,000 in revenue. After netting a deal in the beginning of the year to supply a number of regional Bread & Circus markets, Sauces ‘n Love this year is on track to increase revenue to $390,000 Volpati-Kedra said.

“That changed our whole business,” said Volpati-Kedra. The Bread & Circus deal resulted in the company increasing production from 1,000 jars of sauce a month to 7,500.

Sauces ‘n Love currently sells six flavors of pasta sauce, including pesto, Bolognese and a tomato and basil sauce for a suggested price of $5.99 a jar, as well as a pizza sauce for $4.99. The recipes are all devised by Volpati-Kedra and prepared by hand in the company’s Somerville kitchen. Sugar is never added, and the sauces, which must be refrigerated because of the fresh ingredients, contain no preservatives.

Before devoting his energy full-time to the company, Volpati-Kedra worked as an accountant, cooking only for two hours each weekday morning at a friend’s restaurant before going to work. To test the market, the couple distributed sauce menus door-to-door on the weekends.

“We had no idea what we were doing,” said Edick, who also holds down a full-time marketing job outside the company.

But the phone did start ringing — so much so that the couple drew up a business plan in the spring of 2000 and raised $30,000 from friends and family to set up a commercial kitchen in Medford.

Volpati-Kedra and Edick landed their first account with the Cheese Shop of Wellesley. In time, other local names in gourmet food, including Zathmarys in Brookline and Needham and Shubie’s Liquor & Marketplace in Marblehead, have joined the company’s client list.

“It’s a good product — it sells well,” said Michael Szathmary, owner of Zathmarys specialty food store, which has been selling the Sauces ‘n Love products for about a year and half. Szathmary said he keeps the sauces in stock and cited the company’s pesto as his best seller.

Carol Shube, co-owner of Shubie’s, also said pesto is her top seller, followed by the tomato and basil sauce.

“The product is fabulous … it’s so fresh,” said Shube, who has been selling the sauces for about three months.

It’s also pleasing to the eye, she added.

“It’s a beautiful product. As a specialty food retailer, it’s what I look for,” she said.
In the fall of 2001, Sauces ‘n Love broke into the New York City market with a deal at Zabar’s. It wasn’t long before other New York-area gourmet food stores fell in line, after tasting the product.

“The selling is in the taste of the product” said Edick, noting the bulk of the company’s marketing budget goes to in-store demonstrations.

The company’s most pivotal sale happened in the beginning of 2002 when Whole Foods Market, parent company of Bread & Circus, agreed to bring Sauces ‘n Love on as a regional vendor. By leveraging their association with Whole Foods, Sauces ‘n Love today has about 100 store accounts.

Despite the luxurious nature of their product, the couple maintains business has not suffered along with the economic downturn.

The reason, says Volpati-Kedra, is that “People who used to go to restaurants and don’t go to restaurants anymore, now go to the store and are willing to pay a little extra.”

To continue growing the business, Volpati-Kedra and Edick are seeking $200,000 in funding, money that will be used to expand the company’s offerings. Plans include branching into gift products with small wood crates containing different sauces that can be sold in retail stores. The couple is also exploring the private label market, by which Sauces ‘n Love would partner with specialty food shops to sell the pasta sauces under a food shop’s own brand name. Wholesaling the sauces to the caterers and large, institutional customers is also in the offing.

And with their carefully chosen branding name, the company founders have left the door open for product expansion. Think, for example, “Gelato ‘n Love.”

As a result, Volpati-Kedra and Edick planned to exhibit the Sauces ‘n Love products at the all-important Fancy Foods Show held this past week in New York City. The intention is to garner national accounts.

Yet as the number of jars turned out each day continues to increase, Volpati-Kedra and Edick say they are unlikely to tire of what remains their favorite food. Volpati-Kedra maintains he could still eat pasta three times a day, and at minimum, the couple says they keep five to six pounds of pasta on hand at all times.

“Pasta in our house is a constant,” said Edick.

by Jill Lerner Journal Staff