When COVID-19 took over the world as we knew it in March, it seemed everywhere was flipped entirely upside down. In conjunction with the mass destruction of lives, health, and so much unknown for the future, small businesses have never been more threatened of extinction than right now, especially the prospect of sitting in and eating at restaurants.
In a selfish state, besides fear for my health, contraction of the virus, and the well-being of the people I love, the fear of losing my own business was one I have never felt before. Sure, imposter syndrome has been real, but with restaurants on the brink of extinction and social media budgets being the first cut, how would I do what I love?
Slowly but surely, I saw opportunities for re-establishing my work, such as shifting to discounted consulting for small businesses. I also had an eye-opening journey to what my platform had become to the community I had immersed myself in for the past year and a half: Hungry Grl Big City was a voice of the culinary community to the people of this city. I had become the middle man for all things food and what’s new.
My work significantly shifted towards connecting with local business owners and creating content centered around what they were working on and focusing on during this time. This is how I met Domenic Mantella, owner, and importer of Tavolo Pazzo, an olive oil and balsamic vinegar business made in Italy and sold in local Pittsburgh markets, such as Penn Mac. I was lucky enough to try the products in my cooking and learn more about the importing process, especially during this crazy, roller-coaster year.
Domenic has a passion for food, wine, cooking, and Italy’s tastes right to your table in Pittsburgh. Tavolo Pazzo formed to bring families together at the dinner table and to emphasize the practice of family dinner. During quarantine, breaking bread with those you love and live with, whether blood relatives or your best friend/roommate, significant other, etc. is a way to celebrate your daily successes and achievements during a hard time.
Keep reading for my discussion with Domenic and the process of creating and importing the oil.
Jess: What has importing this product been like during COVID?
Domenic: It has been difficult since Italy has been hit hard by the pandemic, the entire country has been shut down for a couple of months. Fortunately, the product is available, the challenge is getting the product imported in a timely manner.
D: The downfall is the lack of people going to our retailers and seeing the product and purchasing. We used to have many tastings at retail locations to have patrons taste our product and educate them on what to look for in quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
J: What has been a silver lining for the business during this time?
D: I believe the silver lining is that people will discover or rediscover cooking at home and the versatility of olive oil.
J: What is the world like in Italy? How have your importers been effected?
D: Italy is going through a tough time. I check on my producers regularly. Their spirits are optimistic and very appreciative when I place orders. The challenge all over the agricultural sector is the number of workers in the fields (allowed by law). The shipping ports are backlogged to do the number of workers allowed to work together during the pandemic.
J: What do you want people to take away most about your product? Why should people pick your brand?
D: I think that our EVOO speaks to quality and authenticity from originating in a Sicilian olive grove to providing delicious taste to the family table and home recipes. By way of a single estate of heirloom olive trees, Tavalo Pazzo brings a distinct and traditional taste that reflects a smooth Mediterranean flavor that has been enjoyed by generations of families in the old and new worlds.
The Balsamic Vinegar from Modena is a family-owned company that uses grapes from a single estate in the heart of Modena. These products come straight from the farm in Italy to Pittsburgh. The Tavolo Pazzo brand is more focused on quality over quality than anything else.
J: What is the appeal of bringing this product to Pittsburgh?
D: Being a first-generation Italian-American and still having family still living in Italy. My family was always looking for quality Italian food products like they enjoyed in their native homeland. For the longest time, my family received packages from Italy containing olive oil, olives, cheeses, and chocolates (my favorite as a kid). We want to share these quality products to everyone.
When they use Tavalo Pazzo, our customers know that they are using quality olive oil, much like their grandmothers and great grandmothers served their families in Italy or here in their new homeland. Knowing that they can serve their families in that same way is essential to our families and us.
J: What are your thoughts on the evolution of the restaurant industry during this time?
D: I am fortunate to work with restaurants through Allora Wine Group, Allora imports and distributes wines from Italy. Most restaurants are adjusting to all the new protocols. I believe the restaurants that have a good business foundation and that are creative to stay relevant at this time will have a fighting chance when we resume back to “normal.” I love seeing that the restaurants are supporting each other and sharing best practices to get through these tough times. I believe it may take time for some dine-in patrons to feel comfortable dining in at one of their favorite restaurants. I am sure patrons will become more comfortable with every bite of the fantastic meal they are enjoying.
For an array of recipes, more information about the brand, and a contact for finding the locations near you that carry Tavolo Pazzo, be sure to visit their website and contact Dom directly!