Family recipe for success Featured

9:42am EDT July 22, 2002

Most people in Western Pennsylvania identify the Del Grosso name with tomato sauce products, familiar items in the region’s supermarkets and food stores for the past 35 years.

What most might not know is that, while the sauces originated with an old family recipe, the product was launched out of another family business — an amusement park.

Fred Del Grosso and his wife, Mafalda, the company’s founders, owned a café in Altoona in the early 1940s, where they served Italian food featuring Mafalda’s mother’s tomato sauce recipe.

They sold the restaurant in 1946 and, with the proceeds, bought Bland’s Amusement Park in Tipton. Meanwhile, they began to experiment with a variation of the original recipe and started production of Del Grosso sauce in small batches in the kitchen of the park’s on-site restaurant in 1949.

They continued to produce it at the amusement park until 1978, when the company moved into a 40,000-square-foot plant. They expanded the plant in 1995 and are currently adding a 54,000-square-foot addition.

The Del Grossos attribute the success of their business to their parents’ work ethic and insistence on producing a superior product. Fred Del Grosso believed, says Jim Del Grosso, that hard work equaled success.

“When my father was alive, he always stressed using the best ingredients,” says Jim Del Grosso, president of Del Grosso Foods.

The family also understood that all its members would work in some part of the business, say the Del Grossos. By age 10 or 12, each child was assigned responsibilities. Today, all seven siblings play a major role in the business.

Del Grosso has survived as a regional company in the face of stiff competition from big brands such as Ragu and Prego because of its name recognition, says Jim Del Grosso. Far from retreating from the much larger competitors, the company is introducing three new Del Grosso sauce products this year to help it remain competitive with the national brands.

Del Grosso sells its sauces to most of the major food retailers and many restaurateurs in the eastern United States, either under its own brand or packaged as a private label item.

The family business also includes the Altoona-Tipton Speedway, a go-cart track on the site of an historic automobile racetrack, a water park and a miniature golf course. Combined revenue of the businesses has reached nearly $20 million.

While Joe and Jim oversee most of the operations, they insist that all of the family members, including their mother, now 86, have a direct role when it comes to major decisions that affect the business.

“We may do the daily operations,” says Joe Del Grosso, “but all of the family members are involved.”

Ray Marano