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Albion man’s pasta sauce gaining a following, including at Tops

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 25 February 2020 at 11:02 am

‘People are caught off guard to have a homemade taste in a jar.’ – Darrin Albanese

Photos by Tom Rivers: Darrin Albanese is shown with jars of Albanese’s Finest Gourmet Pasta Sauce on Monday after they were freshly made by Permac in Bergen. Albanese has the sauce at about 25 locations in Western New York and soon it will be available at many Tops stores.

ALBION – Darrin Albanese for years enjoyed cooking for family and friends. He liked to see their exclamations, especially with his homemade spaghetti sauce.

Some of his friends liked it so much they insisted he make more batches and put it in jars for them to take home.

Albanese, 52, uses natural, fresh ingredients with no added salt or sugar. He has tweaked the recipe from his mother Theresa and father David.

“I’ve always enjoyed cooking, especially for when people come over,” Albanese said.

Last year, after prodding from friends and his daughter Kaleigh, he decided to make the sauce available as a business.

He worked with Cornell University’s Food Venture Center to test the shelf life of the sauce and affirm the scheduled process for a manufacturer to make the sauce in bigger batches.

In late October, he had the first jars available of Albanese’s Finest Gourmet Pasta Sauce. ANG Shur Sav in Churchville was the first store to put it on its shelves. Now Albanese’s Finest is at about 25 locations, and soon will be sold at several Tops stores.

Albanese has been doing tastings at many of the sites and that has fueled many of the sales of the traditional Italian marinara sauce.

“People tell me it has an undeniable taste,” Albanese said. “People are caught off guard to have a homemade taste in a jar.”

The jars are 24 ounces and include fresh spices and herbs.

Permac Enterprises in Bergen manufactures the sauce for Albanese, and about 160 others. Jamie Lloyd, co-owner of Permac, said Albanese has one of the fastest trajectories of any of the businesses the company has worked with the past 16 years. Lloyd said securing a purchase order from Tops, less than four months after the first jars went on the market, is very unusual. It’s hard to get shelf space in the bigger grocery store chains.

He said Albanese has a quality product, and he is a good promoter, connecting with stores and doing many tasting events for people to try the pasta sauce.

“You got to make sure everybody knows how good it is,” Lloyd said. “It’s up to them to get out and market it.”

Albanese said he takes the sauce on the road, often driving 100 miles or more a day, offering samples to store managers or owners. If the store agrees to sell the sauce, Albanese will try to set up tastings for people to try the sauce on pasta or bread.

The label was designed by Darrin Albanese and includes a photo of his daughter Kaleigh, who encouraged her father to make the sauce available to more people. The label also includes a swan, which has been Darrin’s nickname since childhood. “I wanted to show her if you put your mind to something you can do it,” Albanese said.

Once they taste the sauce, the sales are easy, he said. He sold seven cases, about 80 jars, at a tasting at the Miller’s Bulk Foods on Route 104 in Ridgeway. He had to drive home to Albion when he ran out of jars at a tasting at the Runnings store in Brockport.

Albanese is pleased with the early success of the product. He is looking to make a meat sauce available in May.

When he was a teen-ager, he worked at his family’s restaurant, Albanese’s Restaurant & Lounge, which was open for about 20 years on Route 31 in Albion. He also did dishes at Tillman’s Village Inn.

Albanese said he feels like the timing is right for Albanese’s Finest. He sees a public wanting higher-quality foods, that are all natural and taste like they are homemade.

He knew his family and friends liked his pasta sauce. The reaction these past four months has proven the sauce has appeal beyond his immediate circle.

He recalled his first tasting on Nov. 15 at Skip’s Meat Market on Ridge Road in Greece. He had the sauce in a crockpot. There was a line of people wanting to try the sauce. They gave him an enthusiastic response.

“It’s fun to know something you came up with that people enjoy it,” he said. “The experience at Skip’s Meat Market solidified that even strangers like my sauce.”

Albanese’s Finest is currently available in Orleans County at the following locations:

Albion – Save-A-Lot and The Back Room Bakery

Holley – Hurd Orchards

Kendall – Partyka Farms

Medina – The Bread Basket. Miller’s Bulk Food, LynOaken Farms and Leonard Oakes Estate Winery

To see the full list of locations, check the Facebook page for Albanese’s Finest.

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