There’s a joke at Bergen’s Craft Cannery about the necessity to document even the most minute details.
Except that it’s not so much a joke as it is a principle for owner Paul Guglielmo. And it was just that type of meticulous business practice that earned the Bergen businessman a coveted Safe Quality Food certification.
“Let's say it's required to have a bachelor's degree to do food safety. This would be like getting a doctorate, Ok? It's really rigorous in the sense that the joke is, you know, if you sneeze, there's a procedure and a form to fill out. But the truth is, it's just a really, really dedicated paper trail on everything you do and everything that comes in and out of your building,” Guglielmo said during an interview with The Batavian. “I’m an entrepreneur flying by the seat of my pants, and I don't necessarily have the time or the wherewithal or even the intelligence to put all these systems in place. And this puts systems in place for you and essentially forces you into a system that is used by some of the most successful plants in the world.”
Graduating from that Safe Quality Food program — similar to obtaining a doctorate degree — has meant more and higher-level opportunities, including acquiring the business of “bigger, regional brands,” he said.
About the cannery ...
It may help to put this into perspective by knowing more about Craft Cannery, a Genesee County hidden secret tucked behind Liberty Pumps at 7100 Appletree Lane in Bergen. Craft Cannery specializes in taking recipes from individuals, restaurants or food production brands, and adjusting them for large production. The cannery then takes those more voluminous recipes and produces, bottles, labels, and ships the final goods for companies across the region.
Guglielmo branded his family name for a tomato sauce seven years ago and had been producing it at a nearby site in Bergen. That has morphed into specializing in sauces, dressings, oils, marinades, teas, soups, meat sauces, meal-in-jars and other items under other local labels, including Uncle Tony’s, Sticky Lips BBQ, Uncle Ralph’s, Old Pueblo Grill, Red Osier and dozens of other “high profile” brands, he said.
The cannery is one of six USDA-certified manufacturing canneries in New York State, which allows the company to produce meat-based products. Led by Guglielmo, with the support and input from his wife Ryann, and a team of seven employees, the cannery most recently earned Safe Quality Food certification through Safe Quality Foods Institute. That entailed a two-day audit after what Guglielmo describes as a “year in-the-making” preparation with the help of a quality assurance consultant and SQF practitioner.
The Audit …
So what exactly is a Safe Quality Food certificate? It’s a methodical system of checking all aspects of the cannery’s business practices to ensure that all ingredients, operations, documentation and canning/bottling processes are noted and verified as meeting the guidelines of being safe, quality food. The auditor takes a randomly selected batch of product and tests it based on things like the ingredients, where they’re from, when they were shipped to the site, how they were prepared, the temperature at which they were cooked, and the backup paperwork on all of it.
“In late July they did the audit; it was two days going through everything with a fine-tooth comb. Now that we have (SQF status) it’s a big deal,” Guglielmo said. “It unlocked the door for us … it took us to the next level.”
From the airwaves to bottling …
Guglielmo started out in media as a radio host for 15 years. A budding entrepreneur, he took his childhood experience of canning tomatoes with his grandfather and decided to bottle and sell his elder’s tomato sauce under the label Guglielmo’s. He was doing that in a manufacturing plant in Bergen before discovering that “I can do bottling for a living,” he said. That was a “pinch yourself moment."
“I was loving running this little sauce business. I’m more of a bull in a china shop, full-speed ahead. (The SQF process) forces you to slow down,” he said. “If you want to work with big brands, then you need to have this certification. And it allowed us to start to work with some big brands. And so it has really been a breakthrough moment for us.”
Through a connection with "Coach" Tony Perry, the founder of Permac, and who was planning to soon retire, Guglielmo drove out at 4:30 in the morning to meet with the early riser about buying his Bergen-based operation. A deal was made, and Guglielmo’s grew into Craft Cannery. He started Guglielmo's sauce 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. The operation moved into 5,000 square feet behind Liberty Pumps. That move included going more automated, which, contrary to popular belief, required more employees and not less, he said. He and partners Tom Riggio and Jay Perry, the son of Coach Tony, are hoping to expand the current site in the near future.
Guglielmo, who lives in Rochester with his wife Ryann and their 3-year-old son Leo, believes in giving back to the community. He is a Rochester Business Journal Forty Under 40 award recipient, serves on the Board of Directors for Rochester Rotary and Big Brothers Big Sisters, has spoken to culinary arts students as a member of Genesee Valley BOCES Culinary Board, and is heavily involved and active in the community.
His wife is in marketing, and she helped with Guglielmo’s logo and public relations efforts. She has enjoyed watching her husband navigate the entrepreneurial world. He admittedly has had some tough lessons, and learned that it’s ok to oversee employees and direct them on what to do, he said. In fact, he learned that his employees welcomed the idea and were looking for guidance versus ample latitude to figure things out on their own. He credits his and the team’s resilience to keep going even on the hard days, because the good ones will come around again.
It has been that kind of education that has strengthened his business skills, Ryann said.
“It’s been such a journey to see Paul become a leader … as the sauce came around, it was just him and I working every festival. Now he’s leading a team of nine people,” she said. “He takes such pride and taking care of his team, he takes that so seriously. He is really becoming a great leader and he cares about his team.”
His next big goal is to triple the size of his current plant and break ground by 2023.
“I like Bergen. Genesee County has been really, really great,” the 38-year-old said.
Recognized by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), the SQF family of food safety and quality codes are designed to meet industry, customer, and regulatory requirements for all sectors of the food supply chain – from the farm all the way to the retail stores. Audits will be conducted once a year to maintain the SQF status, with the first two being scheduled in advance, followed by surprise, unannounced visits beginning in year three. The time, effort and tracking have been worthwhile for his bottom line, Guglielmo said.
“I want nothing more than to produce safe, quality products for my customers,” Guglielmo said. “The thing I am most proud of is how hard every single team member has worked towards this SQF certification. The approval of our SQF program is a testament to this Craft Cannery team. We’ll always be committed to food safety, and we’re ready to keep working and making products our clients – and their customers – love.”
Top photo: Craft Cannery owner Paul Guglielmo shows some labels for his own product, Guglielmo's tomato sauce, at the company site in Bergen. Labels are just a portion of his business that also includes recipe creation, cooking, bottling and shipping of several local and regional brands. Cannery partner James Perry is shown pouring product into bottles and employee Steven Coakley watches a line of labeled product move along an assembly line. Photos by Howard Owens.