She started out in Brooklyn, New York.
Now her pasta sauces can be found in major retail chains as well as Sam’s Club and Walmart.
We are talking about Bea’s Gourmet Sauces and their founder Beatrice Namm.
Q – Is it true that organic pasta sauces are now very popular?
A – You know, it’s really big on the West Coast in California. It’s huge. I’ve been asked to go organic and cater to some customers however; I am the real deal Brooklyn gravy, okay? So, in my block in Sheepshead New York none of those Italian names would really even go that route to purchase organic tomatoes. Well it is a growing category, it caters to a certain demographic, but I would never really go organic because I like to stay true blue to whom I am and how the company was sprung. Brooklyn has the best pizza, the best Italian restaurant, the best mozzarella, everything I never really felt that I had to take the organic plunge if you will.
Q – Growing up you would help out in the kitchen on Sunday mornings with the pasta sauce. You like doing it so much, you started experimenting in the kitchen with your own ideas. How did that lead to you starting your own catering company?
A – Basically I was doing a 9 to 5 job, giving it my all and liking it but by the end of the day I really like to cook and I like to entertain often. I just got a thrill of people coming over saying Wow! This is great! This tastes really good. Oh, my goodness what it you put in this? Will you give up the recipe? I just kind of loved it. I had a real big passion for cooking and just out of the blue I decided to give it a shot. Kind of said bye to the 9 to 5 thing and one of my friends owned a mini catering company. My very first account was for my old high school that I graduated from in central jersey. The principal remembered me and it’s like, What are you up to? You’re doing catering? We’re actually looking for a bid for catering for our high school graduation. What do you say you see my assistant and put in a nice bid? And, I did and we got the account. Next thing you know were making meatballs around the clock, Italian dishes and what not. We also catered the event. We had a staff there that was serving. We got a lot of positive feedback from the teachers, the faculty, students. Wow, this is so good! My goodness this is so good! It’s better than a restaurant! Next thing you know were just getting phone calls pretty much for pints and quarts of the sauce. It’s like, do you just mind? I’m not having a party or need a lasagna dish. It’s that sauce. While!, It really pops, my goodness. That’s kind of how it really started. It’s like you know what? Maybe we really do have something there. So picky me, I never found a good jar of sauce on the market. It would have to be made from scratch. Still many people on the same block in Brooklyn that I grew up on, it’s still taboo to this day for them to crack open a jar of pasta sauce. It’s taboo. It needs to get done fresh every Sunday morning. Nowadays more and more you need that double income so the male and female of the house are working. Even though they make their own gravy they can’t always do that. They want a terrific backup sauce to make dinner in a pinch when they’re busy doing their errands on a weekend. This is where the sauce serves its purpose.
Q – How much does a jar of your sauce cost?
A – I would want to say the average probably from about $5.99 – $6-99 a jar.
Q – Some Supermarkets are making their own sauce, in effect undercutting you?
A – It’s a whole different quality. God bless em that they do great at what they do. Picture gasoline you have your premium your midrange and your lower grade gasoline, correct?
Q – Correct.
A – Were dubbed a premium pasta sauce and no disrespect to them, I’m sure they do a wonderful job but at the end of the day we all know you kind of pay for what you get. That’s just a theory that’s been proven over and over whatever it is vehicles, houses, used boats, new boats, across the board. So, I would never charge a premium price if I knew I didn’t have a premium product. That’s for sure. People are very, very intelligent these days. Consumers are extremely savvy. If they felt they were overpaying for something they would immediately let you know. And, there goes your fans and all of your end-users.
Q – What did you major in, in high school?
A – Just different Academics. I just took different classes and courses in high school. Did I take cooking? I did. Absolutely.
Q – Did you go to any cooking school after high school?
A – Honestly, I didn’t. I just went to a regular school it had nothing to do with culinary. Once again, you’re talking to somebody who really grew up in a neighborhood where on Sunday, if you were to lift up your window in the fall, the whole block was cooking. There was always somebody going to the corner deli at the end trying to get the last few pieces of that delicious semolina bread, made with the Brooklyn water, really good kind of bread that you can’t get just anywhere. People are like lining up around the corner to get that. Sometimes when they sold out, they sold out. So, everybody knew the earlier they get there for that bread the higher likability they had to bring some home and enjoy for their Sunday dinner. I remember that as a child. It brings back a lot of childhood memories in that deli is still there which is kind of cool as well.
Q – Did it cost a lot of money to get that catering company off the ground?
A – It was just a few trays here and there from some assisted-living homes in the beginning. The one that really made me squeeze that piggy bank out would probably have been the graduation that I told you from my former principal at my high school. When he gave us the opportunity to show our products and goods in dishes off at graduation, whatever we had towards the budget went on everything from soup to nuts to make this thing happen. We put up a lot of money into that and we had a nice profit off of it and pocketed the profit. Then we kind of started moving forward from that point.
Q – Your principal must have really liked you! You must have been a good student.
A – He was such a super guy. God bless him! He really didn’t have to give us that opportunity. I’ll be very honest with you. It takes that one person in life to give you that opportunity big or small right? Right time at the right place kind of thing, but, I’m very, very grateful to him. It was such a small, little operation. It was almost a tiny, little thing. And he did give us that opportunity. We kind of think he took a shot and maybe I was not problematic in high school who knows? But, that was very cool of him.
Q – And now, he gets free pasta sauce for the rest of his life.
A – Exactly. By the case. Every month he gets a different case of pasta sauce. Yes. He’s in the case of the month club. (Laughs)
Q – Your first major account was the ShopRite stores.
A – Yes.
Q – I’ve never heard of ShopRite. How big of a chain is that?
A – There are about 195 of them now but back then they were like a co-op, where different families owned X amount of stores under the ShopRite banner name. And I went to one in central jersey called Food a Rama. I had some extra sauce left over. Back then people were just making me feel good about the feedback of the sauce calling to order pints and quarts of it! I really didn’t take it seriously, but I figured hey, why not? Let me jar some Mason jars. What do I really have to lose but a 10 minute ride? It just happened that when I made the call to make the appointment, the odds are very low to get an appointment like this with the buyer. They have other fish to fry. But, right time at the right place. I called him and he said, I actually am looking for a pasta sauce, why don’t you come on down. I’ll be free and gave me a date. That was it. I went down there. I didn’t even have a label, a UPC code, anything. I just brought three jars of three different sauces to him. At first he looked at me like I had cauliflower growing out of my ears but then we kind of broke the ice. He was a really nice fella. He cracked open those Mason jars and through some stones in there. He’s of Italian descent. So who wouldn’t know a good gravy, right?
You know he’s like hang on a second. Hey Frank, Hey Harry come on in. You got to try this! And they did. And lo and behold they were smitten by it. They said, hey listen we gota get this in our stores. How soon? How soon? That’s what basically sprinkled the seeds.
Q – For that first-order you made the deliveries yourself and you stocked the store shelves. But, how about the second delivery?
A – I hired two twin brothers because somebody had to make the sauce right. (Laughs). Jeremy and his brother Joseph, those two youngsters I met working at a bagel place said they’d love to do something like that and make some money. They were on a shoestring budget themselves. They were, if you want to rent a van will gladly do the deliveries. So, I would type up a route for them the night before. I’ve used this Microsoft program frequent trips and I’d plug it in and they go and do the deliveries. Sometimes there were too many stores. ShopRite became Pathmark which is another large chain then I would even go on the ride with them. We all kind of work together doing this. So, between making the sauce, peeling stickers on their and going to restaurant depots and Sam’s Club in purchasing all the raw material, it was round-the-clock work. I kind of walked right into this, but I got to tell you 90 hour weeks without any form of exaggeration nonstop. That’s how it kind of still is to this day. My body and my brain are acclimated to working very lengthy days and hours because that’s what I was thrown into do. I didn’t know how to put in any less hours than that.
Q – It sounds like you don’t have much of a life outside of making the sauce.
A – You know, I do. I have a wonderful family. I have a wonderful husband, wonderful kids, and wonderful friends. I surround myself with good people. They kind of understand what I do. They know I put God first, then my family second and then screen this right underneath my family. Definitely prioritized, but do allow myself on weekends to go out and have fun. It’s always in the back of my mind. I don’t turn it off. I can’t turn it off if I tried. I do make time to do that work-family balance. I certainly try my best.
Q – And now you’re in Walmart and Sam’s Club with your sauce!
A – And Costco. Now were getting Costco, first or second week of November (2013) so I’m stoked.
Q – You do something called roadshows. What’s that? You go around the country talking about your product or demonstrating it?
A – Roadshows are pretty neat. We do sell to Sam’s Club and it’s on the shelf, but with Sam’s Club it’s kind of like a tour since Sam’s Club doesn’t want to inundate their shelves with anything but my pasta sauce because we have so many flavors. They allow us to have those real cool trunk show events where we can sell the product and like mix and match any two or mix-and-match any three. We get to travel the entire country and we hire sales reps and they set up 3 six foot tables and banner stands signs, promo bags. The product comes in, all the flavors, crockpot, fresh bread, or to your chips for our sauces and our barbecue sauce. It’s like an all-day event. It’s really cool. So customers are able to try them and buy them right then and there. It’s just a really great way to support the in-line items that are already on the shelf. It’s a great way to support your brand.
Q – Now I understand why you have to put in those 90 hour weeks.
A – Oh yeah. It’s the love of the game. I’m already passed the commerce part of it. I love the fact that when we get the messages from the customers on the hotline on the back of the jar it’s really them. It’s the emails, it’s the wow! Oh my God! I’ve never had anything this good. It’s so amazing! When you hear feedback like that all the way up from Massachusetts down to Florida and West Coast Florida, East Coast Florida and then the West Coast California. We also have a couple of reps out that way as well. It’s just mind blowing. That’s what keeps my candle lit. Every day feels like it’s the first day. It never gets old. It never gets stale.