Bernatello’s began as a tavern pizza establishment in Annandale, Minnesota in 1982.
Today, they are one of the biggest pizza makers around.
To explain how that happened we talked to Bernatello’s General Manager, Mr. Jim Cousin.
Q – Jim, as the General Manager of Bernatello’s, what does that job entail?
A – I get involved with a lot of different things. Primarily, our corporate offices here in Maple Lake is our production facility. Not to confuse our complicate things, but, we did pick up another co. in January of this year (2012) called Five Star Frozen Foods. Their street name for their products is orv’s. They are located in Kaukauna, Wisconsin. So, we actually have two production facilities.
Q – What were you doing before you were with Bernatello’s?
A – I have been here since June of 1989. Previous to that I graduated from Iowa State University in 1976 with a degree in Finance and a minor in German. How did I get to food? Well, when you have a finance and accounting background, you can pretty much move into any industry. I was in Banking for a while. I was in manufacturing of industrial batteries, Gould Batteries in the Twin Cities. I was a controller in a co. called Office Interiors. We designed offices. I could sell you an office chair or I could do the Northwest Airlines Headquarters. After that I came to Bernatello’s and I’ve been here since ’89.
Q – Pizza is an exciting business isn’t it? At least in these days.
A – Well, for whatever reason it seems that people associate pizza with fun, even though it’s certainly become a staple much like the hamburger as far as a snack, lunch or dinner. Yeah, people like to have fun with pizza, and pizza parties.
Q – Was Bernatello’s started by Bill Ramsey and his family?
A – That is incorrect. It was actually started by Bernard Garthe. He’s out of Annandale, Minnesota which is seven miles west of Maple Lake. It started out as Bernie’s Pizza and as many frozen pizza cos. start, it started in a bar, just like Tombstone started in a bar and Jack’s did. It was Bernie’s Pizza and Bernie’s Bar.
Q – Why is the co. called Bernatellos?
A – Well, his buddies convinced him if you’re gonna be in pizza, your name needs to sound more Italian. So, they had a very sophisticated marketing group which was their poker group. They said the next card up, if it’s Red it’s Bernatello’s. That’s how they decided the name. So, that started in ’82. In ’85 Bill Ramsey became part-owner. He and Bud were both owners of the co. and I think it was maybe ’91 or ’92 that Bill ended up buying out Bud.
Q – Is it true that the co. still employs 2 of the 4 original women who hand made the Bernatellos Pizza?
A – You’re catching that from the website. For sure 2. There might even be 4.
Q – You’ve got some loyal employees there.
A – We’ve got a lot of folks that have quite a few years. Just look at myself, I have 23. There are many employees who have been here for 20 or more years.
Q – Got to be a good co. to work for then?
A – I think so.
Q – Bernatellos has an annual growth of 14%. Who’s buying all of your pizza?
A – People like you!
Q – I’ve never had a Bernatellos pizza.
A – Well, maybe not. I made the assumption you had frozen pizza. A few years ago we found a whole new consumer. We were pretty much always a price volume with a good quality product. So, we had a really decent competitive product at store level with a product that was I would say a better quality than its competition. All real ingredients. It’s probably been 5 or 6 years ago that we introduced a premium pizza called Bellatoria. That is an ultra-thin crust, heavily topped, some unique flavors. We priced it higher and found a customer who was willing to spend $6 or $7 for a frozen pizza and appreciate the good quality of that pizza. So, the likes of Costco, has been a good customer for us. We’re in the Sam’s Club in the mid-west. Costco, we’ve participated in some nationwide coupons. It’s where all of their eight regions participate. So, we’re producing product for that event which usually runs about 20 days. So, we produce that product ahead of time and fan it out over the United States over a 2 week period of time. That’s been a part of our growth. We have businesses in Canada. We’ve been up there for several years now. Obviously the acquisition this year will contribute to growth. This acquisition was a co. that it’s distribution was primarily direct store delivery route trucks on the road going to the grocery stores which is a big part of our business too, Bernatellos. This co. was strong in Eastern Wisconsin and middle Wisconsin where we, Bernatellos had entered into and had certainly done some competitive damage, but it was good to pick up this co. because they were strong where we were not. We’ve been a good compliment to each other with that. We’ve been able to bring their products in this direction into Minnesota.
Q – What products were they selling?
A – They sell all frozen pizza like we do even though Berantellos sells other products, snack items, garlic cheese breads, and some ice-cream. They have tasty toppings, Orv’s Riser, Orbellos and then we have some other products on the drawing board.
Q – You make 100,000 pizzas a day or 30 million pizzas a year. Is that an accurate statement?
A – Well, that would be pretty darn close. Last year at the Maple Lake facility we averaged 105,000 a day and I think for the year we produced a little over 29 million, 29.3, or 29.4. Then the Orv’s facility was about a third of that.
Q – Are there plans to expand where you pizzas can be purchased?
A – On the direct store delivery and of things I think we’re content for now with the distribution in the market we have. What we’re concentrating on now is to have a little more penetration into the respective markets that we’re already in.
Q – How do you combat the major supermarkets who make their own pizza, give it prime shelf space and undercut the competition? I’m talking about a chain like Wegman’s.
A – Wegman’s, Super Values, have had their own private label. In fact back in the early 2000’s we bought a co. called Datco Foods which was Roma Pizza. They were out of Eau Claire, Wisconsin and they had some private label business of which Wegman’s was a customer at that time. When we bought them they also put that out to bid to different manufacturers. It could be once a year. It could be every two years, but they’re usually doing their diligence to have that type of thing bid. So, we didn’t retain the business when they re-bid it. But I am familiar with Wegman’s. The stores are putting out very good high quality private label products with a price point that is often times a little bit less than the competitor and it seems to be working. We’re here to make pizza, to make a good quality product, provide good customer service. That mission I guess has been working for us. We’re a strong regional player going up against the big boys but, we’ve been doing that since ‘Day One’ and I think we’ve been achieving our goal because we are pretty responsive and pretty customer oriented and store oriented. Being direct store delivery we touch our product from start to finish, the raw ingredients, the packaging comes in our back door. We turn it into a finished good. We put it on our truck, our employee takes it to the store, they personally put it on the shelf. They rotate the product. A lot of the stores appreciate that. Direct stores delivery is nothing new.
Official website: www.bernatellos.com