Seviroli Foods: Fulfilling a Delicious Destiny

Family pasta dinners should be more than a jar of sauce poured over a box of dried noodles. Proper pasta is crafted from the finest ingredients and traditional Italian recipes, the way Seviroli Foods has been creating it for over 50 years.

Seviroli Foods has become the country's largest frozen tortellini manufacturer, never forgetting its commitment to taste. In addition, the family owned and operated company carefully crafts a variety of Italian pasta specialties, including ravioli, manicotti, rigatoni, gnocchi, cavatelli, lasagna sheets and stuffed shells.

"We’re known for our tortellini, and that’s one of the most difficult filled pastas to manufacture for various reasons," explains Joseph Seviroli Jr., president and CEO of Seviroli Foods. "It’s an intricate shape and not just stamped out; you have to twist and bend the pasta, if you will. And you need a lot of equipment to make any type of volume with tortellini. Ravioli, on the other hand, is a simpler process, where a single machine can produce 5,000 pounds per hour. In the production of tortellini, however, up to 15 machines are required to produce the same quantity as the single ravioli machine."

To handle the volume of pasta its customers demand, Seviroli Foods employs over 200 people and has three buildings on the same block in Garden City, N.Y. Two buildings are dedicated to manufacturing and one for cold storage. These facilities are proudly SQF 2000 Level 2 certified, assuring that the company’s HACCP-based food safety plan maintains the highest level of quality and food safety. Seviroli Foods components are sold to restaurants, foodservice distributors and club stores nationwide, as well as in Mexico and Canada (through a distribution agreement with Costco).

"Many ravioli companies prefer to avoid producing tortellini because of all the complexity involved in its production, so they order from Seviroli and put their label on it," explains Joseph. "At one time or another we’ve made tortellini for nine out of 10 of the competitors out there, private-label productions."

The Family Who Cooks Together, Works Together

Joseph's father, Joseph Sr., founded Joseph Seviroli Inc., dba Seviroli Foods, in 1960. However, he was not the first generation of the family to be in the food business.

"His parents had a pastry shop in Ozone Park, Queens, and in the back of that shop he started tinkering with small pasta equipment," says Joseph. "He was a music teacher by trade and a musician at night playing weddings and such … he played saxophone and clarinet. He taught school and after school he would rush to Queens to play with his pasta machines."

Eventually, at age 50 Joseph Sr. took a sabbatical from teaching and leapt wholeheartedly into the pasta business. He started with small productions, and business grew from there, eventually employing his mother and brother in a rented storefront across from the family pastry shop. Once lucrative enough the business moved to Garden City, which is about 40 minutes by train from Manhattan. The younger Joseph joined the family business at an early age, and has been with it most of his life.

"I worked summers as a kid, starting at 13, and came in full time after college, so I’ve been full time since 1983,” recalls Joseph. “I eat, live and breathe this place. I’ve spent decades here, making sure everything upholds our quality, sampling pasta off the line … it can be tough to keep my girlish figure,” he laughs.

Ever-changing Tastes

Seviroli Foods focused on tortellini through the 1960s, perfecting its mass production during the 1970s. By the 1980s the company launched multiple product lines, offering a range of high-quality shells stuffed with zesty fillings and packaged to seal in freshness.

"We have a very creamy filling, very thin pasta," explains Joseph. "All our products are made with Italian equipment, which makes it a bit of a higher quality. All the tortellini equipment comes from Bologna, the ravioli equipment comes not far from there as well."

Tastes change, and the Seviroli Foods team continues to offer new options for discerning customers. The company recently created new flavors of ravioli, including artichoke, butternut squash, lobster and sausage. Health-conscious customers have also requested whole-grain and lighter or fat-free versions of the pastas they already love, and Seviroli Foods has been working on sourcing the appropriate flours and cheeses.

The team is also working on complete meal solutions to unveil in 2013 or 2014, according to Joseph. "We’re looking to get into some prepared foods, marrying the pasta with the sauce," he says. In addition, there is talk of developing a true lasagna. “I think the quality [of what is on the market] is horrible,” reflects Joseph. “It’s all mush, and there’s big room for improvement in that sector. We know al dente pasta, understand firmness and how to make a good tomato sauce without paste, so it’s just a matter of putting it together in the right way that it’s not too big and won’t take too long to bake in order to satisfy two to four people.”

Raising the Bar on Quality

The quality of Seviroli Foods products begins with the ingredients from trusted sources. The team sources its semolina flour from the finest North Dakota hard durum wheat, buys ricotta cheese from two plants in Buffalo and Wisconsin, acquires parmesan from Wisconsin, and imports the Pecorino Romano. But the way the food is packaged for the customer is just as important.

Many grocery-store pastas marketed as "fresh" use modified atmosphere packaging. "They knock the oxygen out and replace it with gases, nitrogen and CO2, and bacteria needs oxygen to survive so the product will last on the shelf for 60 days, but the bacteria is changing in those days," explains Joseph. "Therefore, people think they are buying fresh, when actually the product is five to six days old. When something that is sold is 50 days old, certainly it should not be considered or labeled fresh."

Seviroli Foods prefers immediately quick frozen, or IQF, which is a process that freezes the food within minutes of when it finishes cooking. Using spiral freezers, where the just-cooked, rinsed and strained product goes in one end and comes out 45 minutes later frozen, Seviroli Foods is producing 10,000 pounds an hour of tortellini, which is then packaged in 13-ounce retail packages, four-pound club bags or bulk foodservice containers. The end product stays good for a year while preventing bacterial growth. The company plans on launching a "Frozen is Fresher" campaign to educate customers on the differences in packaging.

Cooking Up Five-star Dining at Home

Joseph predicts that all of these initiatives will add to Seviroli Foods’ already impressive output, and this could precipitate a big change for the company. He has drawn a line in the sand and walks away from any opportunity that does not present a reasonable profit, and this proactive approach has eased the company back on its own retail presence but led to many lucrative high-volume private-label and foodservice relationships.

In order to expand to meet demand Seviroli Foods may make a move outside of New York, as the cost of operations (utilities, property taxes and shipping tolls especially) can be highly prohibitive. "We wouldn’t totally move at first, we’d just set up a third manufacturing facility, then depending on where we go from there we’d move the rest of the operation over or stay with two locations,” explains Joseph. “As the cost of logistics keeps increasing it doesn’t hurt to have your manufacturing further west to average out a little bit.”

One area Joseph is eyeing for potential expansion is Allentown, Pa. In the meanwhile, Seviroli Foods is investing in increasing its packaging equipment, its conveyors, its coating and check-weighing capabilities, and its on-site cold storage to allow for more products both in terms of incoming and outgoing.

Another possible plan may be the beginning of a Chipotle-like franchise that sells freshly cooked Seviroli products, offering a good meal for only $6 or $7. Whichever path Seviroli Foods pursues in its second half century, the company will continue to honor its family traditions of crafting high-quality, pure products that bring authentic Italian flavors to the dinner plate.