There’s a new sauce in town. The reason that this is so notable is twofold – first, it’s made right here in Western NY, and second, it’s made with the best “select”, ‘freshest of fresh’ ingredients. Yes, I know, they all say that, right? But not many of them can back it up. When the owner of Albanese’s Finest, Darrin Albanese, says that his sauce is the greatest in the land, he can back it up. How? By simply tasting a sample.
Albanese grew up in an Italian household; the family is from Calabria. Growing up in Albion, NY, his family members were involved in a lot of different businesses – Albanese says that they operated everything from a hotel to a restaurant to large scale greenhouses. It was in the restaurant – Albanese’s Restaurant and Lounge – where he first started working as a dishwasher. The greenhouses were where the family would grow tomatoes for Hunt’s Tomato Sauce. So he got a firsthand look at the growing and the cooking side of the food industry.
For years, Albanese’s friends prodded him to take his marinara sauce to market, but until recently he never had the time to do it. When his daughter Kaleigh – his #1 inspiration – turned 19, he finally decided that it was time. This past November, he launched his first product – Albanese’s “finest” gourmet marinara pasta sauce. “Everything is fresh, nothing is dry, except the pepper,” he told me, when I asked him what made it so special. “A lot of sauce makers claim to use the freshest ingredients, but they have some tricks up their sleeves – they use bulk dry ingredients, powders, and half the jar is water. Just let it simmer on the stove for a couple of hours and you will end up with half of what you started with. It all boils down to you get what you pay for.”
I found it fascinating that Albanese got his original sauce recipe into a Tops Market three months after launching the product. He told me that it was due to his relentless persistence of banging on doors, his devout reliance upon fresh ingredients, and being local. “The main guy in charge of the Tops sauce section liked that I was local,” said Albanese, who caught a big break early on. “But that doesn’t mean that you get into all of the Tops locations. I drive around 500 miles a week, just to go to stores to see if they will put the sauce on their shelves. Today, I am in 53 Tops locations, and 99 locations total.”
Premier Gourmet in Amherst NY recently minted an exclusive deal with Albanese’s Finest for 440 units of sauces that were distributed in gift baskets throughout the state.
After seeing some initial success with his tomato sauce, Albanese decided to strike while the fire was hot. Within months he had launched a “meat sauce” and a “pizza sauce.”
“Everything was going great because I was able to go to stores and offer tastings to customers,” Albanese reflected. “If I could get someone to try the sauce, there was a good chance they would buy a jar. But then COVID hit and I couldn’t do the tastings anymore. There’s an Amish store called Miller’s Bulk Food Bakery – I was doing tastings there, and would sell 75 jars in three hours. People came from all over Western NY and Canada to go to this store. It’s still a nucleus for me.”
Albanese bases his meat sauce and his pizza sauce off of the original marinara sauce, which was inspired by his parents, David and Theresa, but “tweaked” with his own culinary interpretations. “It’s that good,” he said. “I plan on releasing a vodka sauce in December, hopefully, depending on COVID. It’s coming up on sauce season. These days I’m depending on a lot of word of mouth. There’s a lot of competition out there, but I’m driven. It’s all about getting it in front of people to taste – once they do they say that they will never buy anything else.”
It’s also all about friends and family, Albanese mentioned. “I owe a lot of my success to my friend Scott Hildreth who told me for years to bottle my pasta sauce. My daughter helps out from time to time, but it’s a ton of work. It’s countless hours of knocking on doors, paper work, driving… but it’s worth it, because I believe in what I’m doing. I believe that I’m selling the best sauce on the market, and people agree when they try it.
In the end, that’s really what it’s all about – feeding people delicious food that is good for them, while keeping our hard-earned money right here, circulating in the Western NY economy.
Albanese’s Finest is based out of Albion, NY. The products are produced 40 minutes outside of Buffalo at Permac Enterprises in Bergen. They are distributed by Cavallaro/River Valley foods. You can learn more by visiting this Facebook page. You can also find the sauces on Etsy.
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