For this week’s podcast, Steve sits down with Paul Guglielmo, owner of Craft Cannery and Founder of Guglielmo Sauce.
Paul Guglielmo founded his small business, based in the Greater Rochester region, called Guglielmo Sauce, a line of 15+ marinara sauces. He started Guglielmo with 20 cases of Marinara Sauce in the summer of 2014 and today, the product is available in over 500 stores, including Wegmans, Tops, and Whole Foods, and hundreds of locally owned small businesses across the Northeast.
In April 2020, he purchased Permac, known as Craft Cannery today, and increased production by 100 percent in the first year of owning, managing, and operating the factory. In his first year, the facility went from a 3-person team to a 10-person team within six months.
He is a Rochester Business Journal Forty Under 40 award winner, serves on the Board of Directors for Rochester Rotary and Big Brothers Big Sisters, and is heavily involved and active in the community.
Paul grew up in Northeast Ohio and lives in Brighton, NY with his wife Ryann and their son Leo.
Steve Melito: Hey, welcome to New York State Manufacturing Now, the podcast that’s powered by Fuze Hub. I’m your host, Steve Melito. Today we’re talking to Paul Guglielmo, of Guglielmo Sauce and Craft Cannery, a USDA- certified manufacturing cannery in the Rochester region. Hey, this podcast might make you hungry or it might inspire you to become a food entrepreneur. Either way, it’s going to be a good time. Hey, Paul, welcome to the podcast.
Paul Guglielmo: It is such an honor to be here. Thank you for having me. This is really cool.
Steve Melito: Hey, you are most welcome. It’s great to have you here. And I know some people know you as Paulie, and hopefully I didn’t get your last name wrong. We’re both Pisan here, I think. So shame on me if I did.
Paul Guglielmo: That’s right. No, you’re good. You got it. Guglielmo.
Steve Melito: All right, beautiful. So, hey, tell us about yourself. And you have, what I think, is an unusual career path that didn’t exactly start in the kitchen.
Paul Guglielmo: No, really I took a weird, really sharp left- hand turn at one point in my career. So basically I’m a radio guy. This is what I did for my entire life, Steve. I worked for iHeart Media for 15 years. And I did morning radio here in Rochester, New York for the last 10 with the Brother Wease Show, which is a big brand here in Rochester. But I’m not from Rochester. I’m from northeast Ohio. And when I first came to Rochester, the thing I missed the most… Because I was young, I was in my twenties, is I missed home. I missed my grandfather. I missed Sunday sauce; that Italian tradition of Sunday sauce. And so I just started making it here. And that’s how I made friends. It was the only thing I ever had, the only card I’ve ever had to play. The only trick in my bag of tricks, Steve, is that I can make sauce on Sunday. And so if there was a girl I was interested in, that was the date. It was, ” I’m going to make sauce.” If it was buddies that I wanted to make, it was, ” Hey, come over for sauce and we’ll watch football afterwards.” That’s the only skill I’ve ever had in life. And so I loved it, did it so much that I missed my grandfather and eventually decided I wanted to try to bottle the sauce just one time. One time deal. One time shot. Something for my grandfather for a Christmas present we could call it. And I did it. I figured it out. I Googled, I found Cornell University. I found myself a little co- packer, and I started making sauce. And I got very lucky. I mean, we hustled. We did every festival, every event, and the sauce was good. It did not hurt that I was on the radio every day. And it snowballed; and we were in five stores and then 10 stores, and then 20 stores and 50 stores and a hundred stores. And before you knew it, we were in a couple of hundred stores and we had a nice little presence in the category.
Steve Melito: This is a dream story. Now at Fuze Hub, of course, we talk to a lot of food entrepreneurs, people who make things in the kitchen and want to get to that next step. How did you get into distribution, get into stores and supermarkets and such?
Paul Guglielmo: Well, I worked morning radio, so my advantage was that I woke up every morning at 2: 15 AM and went to work at 3: 30 AM and I was out at lunchtime. So I every single day was free at about noon. And the great thing about that was that I could then load up my trunk with sauce and drive around town stopping into all the different mom- and- pop stores and generally be able to reach the owner, or at least a decision maker, because I was stopping in at one, two, three o’clock on a weekday. So many people have that disadvantage where they get started and they’re working their regular job still, so the only free time they have is at night or on weekends, and they’re missing the decision maker when they’re going in. But really, honestly, Steve, I was just cold calling. I was walking in with a jar of sauce and a 32nd elevator pitch and crossing my fingers, and I got a little better over time. I started to figure out that for all the nos that I was getting, that I could circle back and I could talk about, ” Well, there’s this store that’s just five miles away. They started carrying it. They took a couple cases and they sold them right away. Now I’ve delivered 10 cases to that one store just five miles from here in the last three weeks since the last time we talked. So I’m hoping maybe this time you’ll give us a chance.” And sometimes that would work, sometimes it wouldn’t. Other times I would offer, ” Hey, I’ll come in on Saturday and I’ll do a demo.” And so that was another way that I could kind of finagle my way in was by offering to do a demo. And then if that didn’t work, I would finally… And I only suggest this if you’re really desperate to get into a store, but I would offer a guarantee where I would say, ” If you don’t sell it within 90 days, I’ll come buy it back from you.” And that let me build at least that initial 20, 30, 40, 50 stores that kind of gave me… Now I had a resume. Now I had something to bring to the bigger supermarkets and say, ” Look, we’re in these 40 stores and we’re doing X amount of sales.” And that’s how it started.
Steve Melito: Beautiful. Now, supermarkets can be a tough nut to crack, and it’s a place a lot of people like to begin. So I’m encouraged to hear you talk about those mom- and- pop stores. I think that’ll give folks an idea. What was that supermarket experience like? Did you have a big break? Did you meet somebody that was sympathetic, that was able to give you the time of day? How did that work?
Paul Guglielmo: It was luck, but when I tell you what it was… You might call it luck or you might say no, that was kind of being in the right… The stars aligned. So it was three things happened, Steve. So the first thing that happened was that when I needed to start the business, I needed money because I didn’t have any. I had negative money. I had debt. So I had nothing to start the business with. So I went in the very first year before I started a business, I had a whole year where instead of starting the business, I just went and got another job. I went and bartended on Friday nights, and then on Saturday nights in October, it just happened to be October, I went and got a job working at a local haunted house. It was so much fun. I played Michael Myers. I loved that actually. Well, the woman who ran the haunted house, her regular job, her day job, is that she’s a merchant in the general merchandise section at Wegmans. So I had a character reference. She liked me, she knew that I was a good kid, and she had seen me hustling to start this business. So there’s my character reference. The second thing was that there was a co- packer who I had met with early on who was really more of a distributor. Less of a co- packer, he was more into delivery. And he followed me on Facebook, and every time I would get into a new store, I would post, ” Hey, we just got into this store. We just got into that store.” And he eventually reached out to me and said, ” We should meet because you can’t sustain this. You can’t scale this, just driving around in your car, taking sauce out of your trunk and delivering to all these stores.” So he said, ” We should meet.” So I took the meeting with him just so that I could learn what these meetings would be like, because that was my five year plan was to get into Wegmans. This was only a few months in. So I was like, ” Well, I should know what it’s like to meet with a distributor.” So I meet with him and he says something to me along the lines of, ” When you get into Wegmans, I will get you into Wegmans, and when you get into Wegmans, can I be your distributor?” And I was like, ” Yeah, very funny. When I get into Wegmans sure, Like that’s even possible, you can be my distributor. Of course.” And then the third thing was just pure luck, the sauce category merchant of Wegmans went to a little deli in Gates, New York, called Calabresella’s and saw my jar of sauce and said, ” Hm. I don’t recognize that one. It’s my job to recognize every sauce, and I don’t recognize that one. Better buy a jar.” And he asked the guy working, it just happened to be the owner of the deli, and took that jar back. Apparently he liked it and then had a meeting with the distributor where he pitched my product, and the guy now he was familiar with it because he had seen it. And then the next thing that happened after that is he asked if anybody knew of this kid, this Guglielmo kid. And the woman who owned the haunted house raised her hand and said, ” He’s a great kid.” That was it.
Steve Melito: Right place, right time. What a great story. Love it.
Paul Guglielmo: Yeah. And we were in Wegmans. And once you’re in Wegmans, it’s not over. You still have work to do, but now you have that thing on your resume that says you’re legit- legit.
Steve Melito: Right.
Paul Guglielmo: It’s kind of like that.
Steve Melito: And now every food entrepreneur that’s listening is trying to think of ways to replicate the story. I mean, you can’t replicate it exactly. But to do something similar. There’s another way that they can work with you hypothetically, and that’s you started a craft cannery.
Paul Guglielmo: That’s right. Yeah. So this is where I referenced earlier the weird left- hand turn I took. So basically I became disenchanted with the radio business, and I felt I wanted to move on. And I had felt that way for a couple of years. Where was I going to go though? What was I going to do? Could I do sauce full- time? Maybe, but it would be a struggle. I wasn’t bringing in a ton of money with sauce. It was profitable and I was making some money, but it wasn’t going to be a beautiful living. So I thought, ” Well, I’m going to need more. And my original idea was to gobble up a portion of the supply chain. And because I was the brand owner, I was in the middle of two portions of the supply chain: I had the distributor who comes after me, and I had the manufacturer who comes before me. And I said, it makes the most sense for me to either become a manufacturer or a distributor and the original, the very first co- packer I ever had, was just a guy with a couple of 40 gallon kettles running a nice little impressive business out of Genesee County, New York, named Coach Tony. And he was getting older, and he had made a few comments here and there over the years about how he wasn’t sure how much longer he could do this. You know how old people sometimes they hold their back and they go, ” I don’t know.”
Steve Melito: That’s right.
Paul Guglielmo: He was like, “I don’t know how much longer I can do this.” And so one day I made up an excuse and I got him alone and I just asked him, ” What’s your plan?” And he said, ” Are you asking me what I think you’re asking?” And I said, ” I think so.” And he said, ” Give me a week. Let me put together an idea of what I would want.” And he did. And for that entire week, I was so excited but I was also nervous because who knows if I was going to have what he wanted. But basically he came back and I thought that it was a very realistic number, and then it was my job to go out and see could I find that money. Could I find investment, or could I find backing of any kind that would make it possible for me to give him what he wanted and essentially buy his co- packing business and become my own manufacturer?
Steve Melito: That is excellent. And today, what type of food products do you work with?
Paul Guglielmo: We do hot- fill thermal processing; so we’re talking pasta sauces, barbecue sauces, salad dressings. Here in Rochester we have this thing called the Garbage Plate that takes a meat sauce. It’s a very local product, but here in the local area it’s a big deal. So we have a lot of that. That’s why we’re USDA so we can deal with meat. Are you based in Albany with Fuze Hub?
Steve Melito: Yes. Yes, we sure are.
Paul Guglielmo: So we have a couple of Albany clients too, like Hot Dog Charlie, that’s my boy. Love him. USDAs our specialty, meat products our specialty. But anything if it’s a hot liquid that is not a beverage going in a bottle, that’s us.
Steve Melito: Okay. So if maybe somebody had an ice cream topping, like a caramel sauce, could you do something like that?
Paul Guglielmo: Oh my God, yes. But it wouldn’t be a good idea, because I have to test all the products don’t I, Steve?
Steve Melito: Yeah, it’s true. It might not be the best thing for your health. So who do you like to work with? And the reason I ask this question is we at Fuze Hub are oftentimes contacted by startups. Some contractors and co- packers are happy to have discussions and some companies are not, usually because they’ve had a bad experience, let’s be frank about it. What do you look for when you go to work with somebody that says, ” Hey, I got a really good idea and I’ve done these things so far. Are you willing to take a chance and work with me?”
Paul Guglielmo: Yes. So here’s what I’m looking for. I would say there’s two things we specialize in. I have this phrase I say, ” We are the dollar and a dream co- packer.” We essentially don’t have minimums, and that is just rare. I mean, the reason that I wanted to become a co-packer is because I was the guy who called co- packers looking for a co- packer for really long time. I’ve been on the phone with almost everyone in New York state that can co- pack pasta sauce. And quite frankly, I did not have very many pleasant experiences calling these co- packers, because it was a very short conversation. I would say, ” I’m looking for a co- packer for my pasta sauce.” They would say, ” We’re not taking any new business right now.” And I would say, ” Oh, well, please, I’m already existing and I’m in Wegmans.” And that would get their attention. And then they would say, ” What’s your annual revenue? We only deal with clients with minimum order quantity is this, and your minimum annual revenue has to be that.” And I just thought it was such a cold process and not at all beneficial for people who wanted to start something new. I mean, what a difficult environment to get started in. And so I always thought, you know what? I want to work with new entrepreneurs who are interested in launching that sauce that they made their whole life, that product that grandma or grandpa or mom or dad made at home, that thing that they made at home. Because the magic of seeing the thing that you made at home end up on a store shelf is something that I will never get over that magic feeling, Steve. It’s incredible. To this day, it is incredible. Every time I see a jar of my sauce on a store shelf, I still feel giddy about it. And I want people who feel like that. There’s a couple red flags. I will tell you the truth. Everybody thinks they have the best recipe, and quite frankly, everybody does have the best recipe. You do. You have the best recipe. But I should say red flag would be somebody who instantly or immediately wants to know, ” How much money can I make off this? What do you think? How am I going to make money?” People who are coming to me thinking that they have a get rich quick scheme? That’s no good. What I want is I want somebody who is clinging desperately to their recipe because it means so much to them that they don’t even want to let me see it because it is so incredibly important to them and who they are. That’s who I want. I don’t want the person who’s shoving the recipe across the table and wants to get right to the money talk. You know what I mean?
Steve Melito: I do, I do. That’s great to hear. And you’ve just offered so much great advice today and great insights, and it was wonderful hearing about your successes. And when we had talked earlier, you had shared a non- success story and I was wondering, because it’s kind of a funny one, if you had shared that one with everybody so that they can see, hey, that road to where you are isn’t always paved in gold.
Paul Guglielmo: Oh my. I’ve been in manufacturing now for a little over two years where I was the co- packer, right? And man, did I, and do I still, have a lot to learn? Yes, I still have a lot to learn. But man, did I have a lot to learn. And I have made some mistakes. I have done things wrong. And that’s my other favorite thing about co packers, right? They never want to tell you, ” Nothing ever goes wrong in my plant.” Right? I’m here to tell you, I once spilled 265 gallons of imported Australian macadamia nut oil all over my warehouse. And it was on the day of my grandmother’s funeral, and I was going to my grandma’s funeral, and I wanted to set my team up for success. We were repackaging some oil that day. Obviously make this macadamia nut oil, we’re going to put it in bottles, label it and send it back out. And I wanted to set my team up for success. So I had come in the night before, I set the job up, I put a table out, I put chairs, all the supplies they would need. And I hoisted the tote of oil on a forklift up and put it right next to the table so that when my team walked in, all they were going to have to do is start filling bottles. Turns out hydraulics are a thing? I didn’t know anything about that. Slowly overnight that tote started to tilt and tilt and tilt down, and finally the nozzle on the tote caught onto the table and just slowly, it ripped a little hole in that tote and 265 gallons of oil spilled all over the warehouse. It was an 18 hour all- hands- on- deck cleanup effort and the best part was, I’m the type of guy who, if I did that, I would want to clean, I’d want to lead the charge on cleaning. But I told you it was the day of my grandmother’s funeral. So I wasn’t even able to lead the charge. So it was the biggest screw up in history because not only did I have this terrible mistake that I made, but beyond that I didn’t even get to stick around and lead the cleanup charge. My team had to clean up after me. So it was not only awful financially, awful to my ego, but also it was absolutely awful to my team because I was just like, ” You guys, I am so sorry. There are very few things in this world you can’t skip. Your grandmother’s funeral is one of the things in this world you just cannot skip. I have got to go and I will be back.” But I came back and helped, obviously. Oh man, oh man. I’m re- living that.
Steve Melito: That’s quite a story. Well, thanks for sharing that with us. The good, the bad, the ugly, all the things it takes to be an entrepreneur. And Paul, just I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to be with us on New York State Manufacturing Now today.
Paul Guglielmo: It was an honor. Thank you so much for having me. This was really cool.
Steve Melito: You are most welcome. So, hey, we’ve been talking to Paul Guglielmo of Guglielmo Sauce and Craft Cannery, a company that we can connect you with here at Fuze Hub. They’re a co- packer out in Rochester. As the Statewide Manufacturing Extension Partnership Center, Fuze Hub can also connect you with New York State resources that help food entrepreneurs. The first step, of course, is up to you. If you’d like to engage us, visit fuzehub. com. That’s F- U- Z- E- H- U- B. com, and click the speak to an expert button. It’s right there on the homepage. After you complete and submit a short online form, a member of our manufacturing solutions team will reach out to you. We’ll talk to you. We’ll try to figure out what’s going on and how we can help you. So on behalf of Fuze Hub and New York State Manufacturing Now, this is Steve Melito signing off.