Throwback Thursday- Hungry for Success
| Erik Cassano-Fedeli Factor, 2015
Cleveland has become a food town. More specifically, it has become a chef town.
Nationally and internationally recognized chefs such as Michael Symon, Zack Bruell, Jonathon Sawyer and Rocco Whalen have turned Cleveland into a foodie’s paradise, peppering the town’s revitalized cityscape with innovative restaurant concepts.
The city’s roster of all-star chefs garners most of the headlines — and deservedly so. But there is another layer to Cleveland’s heritage as a food city, a layer that helps support virtually every local eatery — whether it’s one of the cutting-edge establishments in Tremont and Ohio City, or a neighborhood hangout.
For decades, family-owned food businesses have served as the backbone of Cleveland’s food industry, in many cases providing locally sourced ingredients for the area’s restaurants.
In some cases, Cleveland’s food suppliers operate in relative anonymity, producing food products for other companies’ brands. In other cases, their brands are ubiquitous, stocked in every dairy case, freezer and aisle shelf at the local supermarket.
Pierre’s Ice Cream and Miceli Dairy Products Co. are two of the longstanding pillars of Cleveland’s food industry, supplying supermarkets, restaurants, prepared-food manufacturers and other customers with essential ingredients, stock and menu items.
Pierre’s and Miceli’s have succeeded because they’ve built a plan and stuck to it. It’s a testament to the companies’ family-based continuity innovation, and a belief in the talents and abilities of their employees. Through it all, The Fedeli Group has been there to assist them as needed, relying on its own family values to help two Cleveland-based icons achieve their next level of growth.
PIERRE’S ICE CREAM
If you grew up in the Cleveland area, you likely associate Pierre’s with the ice cream aisle at the supermarket. Every bank of glass-door freezers at every grocery store had — and still has — Pierre’s, in all of its flavors and forms.
But that didn’t happen overnight. Pierre’s was founded in 1932 as a small ice cream shop at the corner of East 82nd Street and Euclid Avenue, on the edge of what is now Cleveland’s Midtown neighborhood. From those beginnings, Pierre’s has grown into a regionwide success story by doing one thing in particular: listening to its customers.
“Any business is going to go through various evolutions when it’s been around for 80-plus years,” says Shelley Roth, president of Pierre’s.
“But we’ve always been intent on putting out the best possible products and delighting our customers with new products and flavors.”
What the average ice cream-consuming Clevelander might not know, however, is that Pierre’s distribution footprint reaches far beyond the frozen food aisle. The public largely knows Pierre’s on a quart-by-quart basis, available in the supermarket to enjoy at home. But Pierre’s hasn’t flourished for 80 years by distributing into just one market.
Most famously, the company has co-branded itself with the Cleveland Indians, with several stints as the club’s official ice cream since Progressive Field opened in 1994.
“We’ve been the official ice cream at the ballpark most years since it opened,” Roth says. “We’ve worked on some great ideas with the team. Most recently, we’ve packaged our Pierre’s premium mix for use in their soft-serve machines. By adding that, we’re now covering almost all of their ice cream selection at the ballpark.”
Pierre’s also has a thriving business supplying restaurants, which goes far beyond the standard chocolate and vanilla. Not only does Pierre’s supply many area restaurants, the company is working with local chefs and restauranteurs to develop new flavors for its rapidly expanding premium ice cream lines.
“We’ve launched a line called “Pierre’s Signature,” which has allowed us to develop some fun, unique flavors, combinations we hadn’t explored before,” Roth says.
“We started working with Steve Schimoler, from Crop Bistro and Bar in Ohio City, along with some of the other chefs this town has become known for. It’s been an amazing experience collaborating with them to come up with these new flavors.”
Over the past several decades, ice cream manufacturers have seen an increasing demand for new flavors and higher-end specialty ice creams, and Roth says Pierre’s will continue to diversify its product selection, with an emphasis on growing its premium ice cream lines.
“A lot of what we develop is a reaction to what our customers are telling us through their feedback,” Roth says. “We are always aiming to delight our existing customers and at the same time introduce new customers to our brand. Listening to what they’re telling us is a very important ingredient in continuing our growth and success.”
Pierre’s still occupies the corner of East 82nd and Euclid, but the operation is much different from the ice cream shop that sat there in the 1930s. Pierre’s is known for its local presence in and around Cleveland, but its operation is much larger than that.
In addition to selling products under the Pierre’s name in northern Ohio, Pierre’s also manufactures ice cream for private-label customers around the country. The company’s production facility is a nerve center for a national operation that produces numerous product lines, staffed by nearly 100 people.
With such a large operation, Pierre’s has relied on The Fedeli Group as an insurance advisory partner. Roth says Pierre’s values The Fedeli Group not just for the knowledge it offers but also for the level of support. Knowing a lot about insurance is one thing, but utilizing that knowledge to benefit clients is another.
“They are always thinking about their clients, and that’s one thing that has always really stuck out to us,” Roth says. “If you run a business, you should understand how hard it is to get a customer, and then how hard it is to keep that customer when competition is so fierce. A lot of companies don’t get that, though. They get the customer signed up, and then the attention drops off. The company starts taking the customer for granted. But that’s never been the case with The Fedeli Group.”
Roth says The Fedeli Group is always just a phone call away when Pierre’s has questions. The Fedeli Group even checks in periodically without prompting, just to see if Pierre’s leaders need any guidance.
“They have the same philosophy on customer service that we do,” Roth says. “They don’t just give minimal service after landing an account. We’ve been with them for years, and they have always maintained a high level of service. The Fedeli Group has been an integral part of getting us to where we are, and they’ll continue to be an important part of our future.”
MICELI DAIRY PRODUCTS CO.
Miceli Dairy Products Co. grew up on a Newbury Township farm in Geauga County. The core product of the Miceli dairy operation was initially milk, with the cheese business developing as an offshoot. But after his milk bottler halted production due to a strike in the late 1940s, founder John Miceli turned his attention to cheese — in particular, ricotta and mozzarella, two mainstays of Italian cuisine.
In 1949, Miceli purchased a plant on East 90th Street in Cleveland, giving his company the space necessary to eventually expand into a national operation.
Today, Miceli’s is led by its second and third generations. Vice President of Corporate Administration Jonathan Miceli is John Miceli’s grandson, and the son of CEO Joseph Miceli. Vice President of Procurement Dominic DiSanto is Jonathan’s cousin, and also the grandson of John.
“The business has grown steadily over the years, to the point that we now sell to consumers, restaurants and even the U.S. government’s school lunch program,” Jonathan Miceli says. “We now produce well over 50 million pounds of cheese per year.”
From the initial ricotta and mozzarella products, Miceli’s has expanded into many varieties of cheeses, including lines of provolone, fat-free and reduced-fat cheeses, nearly 20 varieties of ricotta and varieties of mozzarella that range from string cheese to custom-shredded varieties for large customers.
Large-scale commercial and government operations make up the fastest-growing market segment for Miceli’s.
“We originally grew on the strength of our sales into the retail market,” Miceli says. “But over the past 15 years, we’ve been able to find some growth potential in the large commercial and industrial areas, selling 30-pound bags of ricotta and large blocks of mozzarella. Those quantities are sold to companies like frozen food manufacturers for end use in heat-and-serve meals.”
The company also sells higher-end specialty cheeses into the restaurant market, supplying local and regional restaurants with an assortment of products.
“The higher-end products are a bit trickier to make, but as we’ve seen with the revitalization of the local restaurant scene here in Cleveland, there is a market for specialty and premium, locally produced ingredients,” Miceli says. “That market has allowed us the chance to grow in a bit of a different direction.”
But retail and consumer sales will always make up a major portion of Miceli’s sales, and the Miceli family hasn’t forgotten that. They remain committed to soliciting and utilizing customer feedback to enhance the business.
“We’ve spent decades following the trends of what the country is doing, and it’s allowed us to be responsive to what our customers want,” DiSanto says. “You look back maybe 50 or 60 years ago, most meals were cooked from scratch at home. Then there was a movement toward two-income households and families looking for quicker meal solutions. Now, there’s been more of a trend back toward cooking at home, but more for pleasure than necessity. Those types of customers usually look for the higher-end ingredients.”
The family members currently involved with Miceli’s — 12 in all — take an active role in customer feedback, and utilizing that in sales, marketing and R&D. The time and effort spent have produced results.
“Our cheeses have won awards at national contests, and we’re always trying to come up with new innovations,” Miceli says.
“Whether it’s in our production processes, or improving the product itself, like working with the flavor of a particular cheese, we’re always trying to get better. Just because we’ve been in business for almost 100 years doesn’t mean there still aren’t things to learn."
”For close to 20 years, The Fedeli Group has worked with Miceli’s as the company’s insurance adviser. Having a reliable insurance advisory partner is critical for a company like Miceli’s."
“We employ 170 people, and we have a lot of machinery and storage space, so there’s a lot to insure,” Miceli says.
“We need someone like Fedeli to help us manage our insurance costs. We know they’re going to bring a lot of experience to the table and pay attention to all the details.”
No matter the situation, The Fedeli Group has been on top of things, responding to any situation Miceli’s encounters.
“A great example is that we recently had a pretty severe roof leak after a rainstorm,” Miceli says. “It was right above some expensive machinery, and it did some pretty bad damage. We needed to make repairs in a hurry, and The Fedeli Group was right there, guiding us through the process, making sure that area was back up and running as soon as possible.
“That’s the type of partner you want when you’re in business. Lost time is lost money, and perhaps lost customers. We can’t have that, and The Fedeli Group understands what we need in terms of support so that we can keep producing our products and pleasing our customers.”
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