"My grandmother never wrote down a recipe, not even on an index card,” says Michael Tesoro. Tesoro and his wife Robin are co-founders of Ooma Tesoro’s, a family business that makes premium marinara sauce based on the recipe that Ooma never wrote down. “My grandmother wanted me to say ‘Nonna,’ which is the Italian word for grandmother, but it came out of my mouth ‘Ooma’ and the name stuck.”
Little did Ooma know that the sauce that Michael learned how to make at her elbow would become more than a family tradition. With backgrounds in media and design, respectively, Michael and Robin did not exactly follow a straight path to local food entrepreneurship. “I always loved cooking, but I had a lot of other interests as well. Robin and I really liked entertaining and serving great meals with friends – that’s what we did. But when the recession hit, we had a strong desire to do something entrepreneurial – to be the masters of our own destiny rather than relying on corporations and big companies to support us. One night when we were making sauce we realized just how many people told us over the years, ‘This is a nice sauce, you should jar it.’” The couple launched Ooma Tesoro’s in November of 2009.
Michael and Robin’s business makes just one product – tomato sauce. This flies in the face of the food industry’s traditional wisdom, which usually calls for 4 products at least. But Michael takes instruction from another authority. “Leonardo Da Vinci once said that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” he points out. “Our product has ingredients you can pronounce and read. Plum tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, sweet onions, fresh garlic, and herbs. We take care in the ingredients we select and we use my grandmother’s method; we don’t cut any corners.”
The hills that surround the Tesoro’s home in Windsor, MA, lend their own flavor to the enterprise. “In the Berkshires we have this New England rugged individualism and entrepreneurialism that comes from the land and that inspires you to make it on your own.” They have taken hold of the Berkshire identity, a mixture of the worldly and the rural, and run with it. They market their product throughout New England and increasingly, New York, using the tagline “Handcrafted in the Berkshires,” happy to help build the county’s growing reputation as a mecca for good food.
In a market full of pasta sauce behemoths, Ooma Tesoro’s takes a “Small is Beautiful” approach to their business, finding ways to scale up while also maintaining strong relationships within their community and with the stores to which they sell. Just this fall, Ooma Tesoro’s started producing their sauce in the kitchen of the decommissioned Berkshire Trail Elementary School in Cummington, MA. They have become an anchor tenant for the reuse of the building, which now features an art program and a preschool.
Tesoro is confident about their strategy. “At Ooma Tesoro’s we’re running up against some of the largest companies in the world, but we’re winning out because consumers are changing the types of companies they buy from. And local food businesses are just one piece of the bigger puzzle, which is to create greater self reliance and sustainability. That’s why we support BerkShares, which remind people that we need to support the local businesses that regenerate capital in the county. That’s the key ingredient for creating more community.”