Fall 2010 - Lucille Tumminello carried with her a special recipe for pizza when she immigrated from Italy. This pizza was so good it was an event. Soon word of “Mama” Lucia's standout pies spread outside the family, and asking her to bake extra pizzas became such an institution on “The Hill,” St. Louis's famous Italian neighborhood, that in 1981 she founded Mama Lucia's Pizza in her kitchen. First Lucia's expanded to serving fresh through a pizza parlor, then, working with two of her three sons, Tumminello set out to develop a frozen pizza using only the freshest ingredients and that same flavor she was raised on. Mama Lucia sold the flourishing company in 2001 to a group of investors led by Darrell Long, and he has aggressively been growing Lucia's Pizza Company since then. These decisions led to a multi-million organization now employing 33 people in Sunset Hills, Mo. (a St. Louis suburb).
“Today, we are now two companies,” reveals Long. “We have a manufacturing division and a distribution division, both housed in the same building. The manufacturing division produces Mama Lucia’s frozen pizza, and a variety of private label pizzas. The distribution company ships all types of frozen foods to about 90 to 95 percent of the supermarkets and convenience stores within a 100-mile radius of St. Louis, Mo. [totaling over 300 stores]. The distribution company has a fleet of six trucks and is constantly expanding,” says Long. “We recently just signed a contract with Prairie Farms Dairy to take over their distribution.”
As with other firms in the food manufacturing business, the recession has been a bit of boon for Mama Lucia’s, as consumers increasingly skip meals at restaurants in favor of cooking at home. “Our core business is way up. By virtue of the new business, and with the addition of our distribution company, our business is exploding right now. We’re currently expanding our facilities, including a new freezer that can hold an additional 300 pallets, and we’re upgrading our entire facility.”
Business is Booming
In fact, that rapid growth has been Long’s biggest challenge since taking over the company. “Really and truly, our biggest challenge right now is to effectively manage the amount of business that’s coming our way. We’ve had the luxury of some fabulous growth, and we’re really lucky that finding adequate facilities and personnel to handle that growth is our challenge.”
Long’s assertion of new business is backed up by the fact that Mama Lucia’s pizza has become the most successful “off-sale” frozen pizza in the St. Louis market. For those that aren’t familiar with a St. Louis pizza, it’s definitely not like a Chicago or New York-style pie. A St. Louis pizza has an extremely thin yeast-less crust, and primarily uses Provel processed cheese, giving it a distinctive flavor. It’s also often cut into rectangles or squares instead of the traditional triangle shape.
Mama Lucia’s pizza is unique also in the fact that the company uses real butter in the crust, a rarity in the world of mass-produced pizza, as well as real Italian sausage with a lean/fat ratio of 80/20 and the highest quality pepperoni. The company strictly adheres to Mama Lucia’s original, made-from-scratch recipe. The pizzas, of which the company produces roughly 5,000 a day by hand, are rotated frequently in area supermarkets to ensure that that consumers only receive a product that is fresh. Its popularity established in the region, Lucia's Pizza Company offers a fund-raising program for school, church and civic groups.
If You’re Not Growing, You’re Dying
To diversify the firm’s holdings, Long also recently led the firm’s purchase of a gourmet cheese company. “We acquired a specialty cheese company that was being marketed in roughly 75 to 80 local wineries. We renamed it Fromage [cheese in French] and we’re now selling in 150-plus wineries. We plan on introducing it into local supermarkets later this year.”
In addition to effectively managing the company’s new business, Long notes that the company also faces rising costs from the distribution division. “We’ve been noticing that freight charges are constantly going up. We deliver our products in a 100-mile radius, but we ship in a lot of product in as well. We also in the process of expanding one of our new products – Sofia’s Favorite, a gourmet flatbread pizza – and that is sold primarily on the East Coast,” says Long.
There are bright spots in every economy, and Long and his firm not only invested wisely when they purchased Mama Lucia’s Pizza, but they’ve made a series of smart decisions to aggressively grow the firm. With such forward-thinking leadership, Lucia's Pizza Company has only a matter of time before it’s pizzas make a sensation in supermarkets across the country.