After 15 years in business in Endicott, New York, Mama Giuseppa’s, a mom-and-pop pizza shop operated by Albert and Molly Hecker, closed its doors in June. But that evocative name, inspired by Albert’s own beloved mother, lives on, now as a pasta sauce brand created by the Heckers in her honor. Here, Albert shares their journey from pizza operators to pasta sauce and private labeling entrepreneurs.
PMQ: Tell us a little bit about your background.
Albert Hecker ran his uncle’s pizzeria for years before branching out on his own at the age of 26.
Hecker: I was just 26 when I started to realize that running a pizzeria, which I’d been doing for my uncle for years, was exactly what I wanted to do for myself, with my own pizzeria. With the help of my mother and my sister, I did some hard work in finding the right place, pitching the idea to the bank and remodeling the building, and Mama Giuseppa’s was open a few months later. Our menu included everything from Eggplant Parmigiana, Chicken Saltimbocca and Pesto Rosa pizzas to big cuts of steak and homemade soups. One of the most popular items on the menu was our homemade garlic knots that I made daily from scratch.
PMQ: How did you end up going into the sauce business?
Hecker: At first, I had decided not to sell my sauces except in the dishes I created in the restaurant. But, thanks to the demand from my customers, I changed my mind. People wanted to enjoy the sauces in their own homes. So I started out selling it in my restaurant to our customers. One of the first area businesses to carry the sauce was a natural foods store in Endicott, New York, called Down to Earth. Since then, we’ve raised awareness about the sauce by word of mouth and social media, from Instagram to Facebook.
In Endicott, we sell our Mama Giuseppa’s sauce in local farmers markets, and about 15 stores carry it. In June, my family and I moved to Colorado Springs to pursue selling the sauce in more states. Meanwhile, we’re still selling our product in the same stores in New York, and now Molly’s sister runs the farmers markets for us there. Here in Colorado Springs, we’re already selling at five different farmers markets and will be in other local stores soon.
Made in small batches, the Mama Giuseppa pasta sauces come in multiple flavors and can be private-labeled for clients.
PMQ: How many types of sauce do you offer now?
Hecker: We make custom “one-off” batches of sauces for clients and also make our own private label sauce with our Mama Giuseppa brand and logo. Our line of flavors includes Traditional, Spicy Fra Diavolo, Marinara, Garlic Butter, Hops-Infused Fra Diavolo and Hops-Infused Garlic Butter.
All of our sauces are wheat-free and gluten-free, with no additives, no preservatives and no added water. I cook the sauce only in small batches to ensure the highest quality. I’m 100% hands-on when the sauce is being cooked. I take great pride in my “less is more” approach when it comes to flavoring the sauces. Most importantly, I buy the highest-quality ingredients, from the tomatoes to the basil and spices.
One of our current customers—and our largest—is Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, New York. We make a custom Hops Butter and Hops Fra Diavolo sauce that they label as their own.
PMQ: What’s the toughest challenge in bringing your own pasta sauce to market?
Hecker: We’re a true small mom-and-pop shop, and it’s hard to keep up with demand. As of now, it’s just my wife and I performing every aspect of the business from A to Z. But the one thing that keeps us going is the drive and passion for our product.
PMQ: Tell us a little bit about Mama Giuseppa herself.
Hecker: Mama lives in Tucson, Arizona. She’s a substitute teacher and has written her own book, A Gift of My Own: A Journey Into the Spiritual Realm of Reality. All of my customers adore her. We do, too, of course. She is a fun and loving mom who has taught me many recipes, and she’s passionate about food.
Mama has given me many things in life. It was Mama and my sister who helped financially back my restaurant, ultimately making all of this possible. If it wasn’t for the restaurant, there would be no sauce. So I have to say a special thanks to my sister, Louise. And most importantly, thank you, Mama Giuseppa!