Outlook 2022: 55-year-old Pede Brothers business still pumping out Italian food favorites in Rotterdam

Romolo Pede Jr., 50, loads pasta dough into a machine at Pede Brothers in Rotterdam
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Romolo Pede Jr., 50, loads pasta dough into a machine at Pede Brothers in Rotterdam

ROTTERDAM — Shelved in the wood-paneled office of immigrant-turned-local pasta titan Romolo Pede Sr. is a small Virgin Mary statue gifted from a cousin after the opening of Pede’s first shop on the corner of Guilderland Avenue decades ago, along with family photos. Hanging below are obituary clippings.

Those belongings encapsulate the traditional values of Romolo Pede Sr.’s 55-year-old business, Pede Brothers, according to daughter Christine Pede Viscusi. Three of her middle-aged siblings and roughly two dozen others work at the company’s Duanesburg Road factory, pumping out pounds and pounds of Italian food products.

Production is saucy, cheesy and occasionally boozy. Sales are national. Business is personal.

“Some people might say it’s morbid,” Christine said, pointing to the obituaries in Romolo’s office. “But these are all my father’s friends that have passed away.”

“It took a lot to make it where I am today,” Romolo Pede Sr. said. “Those are people who helped me out.”

Early growth
Using culinary skills learned back in Italy as a teenager, Romolo and his brother Sante launched the company on Guilderland Avenue in November of 1967. They expanded into a 10,000-square-foot building eight years later.

More: Outlook 2022 – Spotlighting businesses around the Schenectady area

Investments in retail and factory space, as well as heavy-duty apparatus, provided an impetus for early growth. The family maintains a longtime relationship with New Jersey-based MBC Food Machinery, crediting its pasta-focused industrial gear for accelerating the production of popular sellers such as ravioli.

Each week, Pede Brothers goes through some 60,000 pounds of flour, 80,000 pounds of cheese and 8,000 pounds of eggs. The factory’s industrial mixer can handle about 600 pounds of dough at a time; its flour silo about 50,000 pounds.

From infrastructure investments to networking to certifications, son David Pede believes the company launched at the right time and place.

“I don’t think you could start off nowadays like this,” he said. “It’s so hard and you need so much money.”

It didn’t start immediately. After entering the United States in 1963, Romolo Pede Sr. worked for a glove company in Schenectady and later a food manufacturer in Scotia.

The brothers pitched products across the Northeast, picking up clients in the process such as Casa Imports in Utica; D’Orazio Foods (now-Seviroli Foods) in Bellmawr, New Jersey; and Loblaws Supermarket, which has since moved operations exclusively to Canada.

Providing the company its biggest break early on was the Golub family, owners of Central Market (now Price Chopper and Market 32). As the supermarket chain grew from 35 locations at the time to 131 today, so did Pede Brothers, David said.

“Authentic, old-world recipes” initially caught the supermarket chain’s attention, said Mona Golub, spokesperson for Price Chopper and Market 32. “The family’s work ethic and innovative spirit fueled their partnership with us, helping to expand their prospects, and rightfully earning them a strong regional reputation and loyal customer base.”

‘What I wanted to do’
Although Sante died in 1982, Romolo retained the brand name in hopes that his children would eventually call the shots. David, Romolo Pede Jr. and AnnMarie Pede stepped up in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Fresh out of high school, Romolo Pede Jr. skipped college to commit to his father’s business. He didn’t recall feeling pressured to continue the legacy.

“I knew this was what I wanted to do when I was young,” said Romolo Pede Jr.

By 1997, Pede Brothers moved two miles away to its present Duanesburg Road site in hopes of expanding operational capabilities threefold. It took years of adjustment to keep up with the growing pains.

“We got too big too fast,” Romolo Jr. said. “That’s what happened, and it was a rough time.”

Now a quarter century settled at 582 Duanesburg Road, Pede Brothers’ latest snag is supply chain disruptions. With raw material producers mired by poor staffing levels and heightened demand for shipping containers, trade groups expect packaging supplies to remain scarce throughout 2022.

Pede Brothers has been frequently running low on boxes and other paper products, Romolo Pede Jr. said.

The company produces and packages roughly 20 private-label brands nationwide. Name-brand carriers vary from Sal’s Quality Market in Schenectady to Price Rite, a regional supermarket chain boasting 63 respective Mid-Atlantic and New England locations.

So far, Dollar Tree is the largest carrier to date. Under a single-item distribution deal late last decade, the discount store chain agreed to circulate Pede Brothers’ brand-name ravioli across 48 states.

The retailer originally wanted beef ravioli for 99 cents. David, uncomfortable with adjustments to lower the cost, wooed corporate officials with a cheese-filled alternative.

Beyond the Northeast, the ravioli has since become a popular seller at locations in California and Florida. Recipes and reviews for the Rotterdam-made product now span the blogosphere.

More: Outlook 2022 – Spotlighting businesses around the Schenectady area

“When you bite into our ravioli, what you’re getting is a good, nice creamy taste,” David said. “With some other ones, you might get a chunky, already gritty taste.”

Knowing what works
While Pede Brothers has created limited edition varieties for Price Chopper and Market 32, ravioli and other items aren’t often tinkered with. Additionally, notwithstanding shells still stuffed by hand, production has been mostly automated for decades now, and the retail selection — pizza dough, lasagna sheets, gnocchi, rigatoni, cavatelli, tortellini and more — has been consistently offered since the 1960s.

David believes a number of Italian home meals could fade out as older customers die off across the region. To him, the continuous loss could mean fewer customers likely to buy pasta varieties and fewer likely to pick up meal components for a labor-intensive dish.

First- and second-generation residents have expressed worry over Italian traditions slipping away for more than a decade as reported by The Daily Gazette in 2013. Italian immigration in the Schenectady area picked up in the late 1800s and peaked during the early 1900s.

In-house and imported old-world items still make it to the sales counter at Pede Brothers’ factory-attached wholesale store, situated behind a stretch of brush off Duanesburg Road. With the help of social media and loyal followers, family stakeholders consider visibility a nonissue.

Regulars have frequented the store as far back as 1967. Some have plenty to say.

“People will tell you anything,” said AnnMarie, cash-and-carry store operator and family-described “contact with the community.”

‘There to help’
Other visitors stop by Pede Brothers property to play soccer. In 2014, the company donated a vacant onsite warehouse to the Rotterdam Youth Soccer Club (later branded as Rotterdam United Soccer Club), which had used R & J Auto on State Street in Schenectady at the time.

RYSC President Pat Dowse that year called the space a “deal of a lifetime” before renovating what the sports program renamed the Pede Brothers Soccer Center for $30,000.

Pede Brothers has been a regular sponsor of youth soccer programs and fundraising efforts through the years. Community efforts reflect family values, not a desire for publicity, Christine said.

More: Outlook 2022 – Spotlighting businesses around the Schenectady area

“We’re not PR people,” Christine said. “It is what it is.”

Those values have extended to other Italian-American producers in the area.

In 2015, Pede Brothers joined Casa Visco, Garofalo & Co, Gatherer’s Granola, Mastroianni Brothers and Villa Italia in a short-lived “Taste of Schenectady” coalition intended to increase each company’s market share.

Taste of Schenectady halted after Utica-based Pumilia’s Pizza Shells bought then-bankrupt Mastroianni Brothers in 2016. COVID-19 has rendered reorganization difficult, according to David Pede.

Former members, Pede Brothers reported, remain friends and continue to share resources, including equipment, raw materials and ingredients.

“Our fathers brought us up to always communicate, and if anybody wants anything, no matter what kind of business we are, we’ll always be there to help them out,” AnnMarie said. “That’s how it’s always done.”

Beyond AnnMarie, David and Romolo Jr., as well as Christine, who occasionally helps out in a volunteer capacity, the next generation of company leadership remains unclear. Two of the Pede sisters have children.

David, who wants the company to last at least 100 years, is confident “we’re going to have another line.”

As for the generation in command, Romolo Pede Sr. remains proud.

“They got control,” he said about his three children in the business. “That’s the best part of it.”

The family patriarch, 79, typically visits the Duanesburg Road plant several times a week.

Romolo Pede Sr.’s old manufacturing hub is now a CVS Pharmacy. While passing the corner of Guilderland Avenue and Curry Road, his mind rewinds.

“I remember every time I go by there,” Romolo Sr. said. “Every day, almost.”

More: Outlook 2022 – Spotlighting businesses around the Schenectady area

Categories: Business, Outlook 2022, Rotterdam

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