Milano’s Cheese is a family owned and operated cheese making business that has been around for over 39 years now.
At the helm of Milano’s Cheese is Justin Joseph Tomasino who serves as the company’s Executive Director.
We spoke with Justin about the company he leads.
Q – Milano’s cheese has been around for close to four decades now. What were you doing before you became part of the company?
A – So, I’m third-generation family. My prior roles were simple, busing tables, waiting on tables, starter roles until I joined the family business. When I did join the family business it was important for my father to put me at the starter rank. So, I was in charge of cleaning up at the warehouse, cleaning up the floors. Then I jumped up to the receiving desk. I was receiving raw ingredients and dry ingredients at one of the warehouses. While I was doing that I was dabbling in developing some lines for the company. So, we went into the spice portion of the business with the oregano, crushed red pepper, garlic, retail spices. Things like that. So, what I would do is, after the day was over I take those spices and go to individual stores, Shop Rite, Key Foods on my way home and I would try to sell them individually to supermarkets. So, that kind of interested me, getting into that whole supermarket retail business because primarily Milano’s is only food service and ingredients. So, from there my parents gave me free reign to develop lines and go for it. So then we developed Theo’s Feta Cheese which is definitely the fastest growing feta cheese on the East Coast if not the United States. Just going from one to two stores at night after work, we’re up to 4300 stores. So, we have real strong distribution in a short amount of time.
Q – When you develop a line, is that something you are able to do personally or do you have people you oversee who are doing it?
A – Well, I don’t have much of a background. Just trial and error. Coming up with the idea. Once we have the idea, all we have to do is fill in the puzzle pieces. When it comes to feta cheese it’s a totally new project for us. We did a ton of research. Nowadays with the computer you can find anything online. So, just good old-fashioned research and development. Lookup formulas. Come up with the right packaging. Coming up with the right material.
Q – Now that you’re an Executive Director does that mean you’re more into an administrative role? You’re supervising people?
A – It does. The CEO of the company is my mother Mary Beth and I sit right below her. I deal with all the sales teams, I deal with the retail, the food service, the ingredients sales team, I deal with overseeing production, I deal with overseeing the office. Overseeing the purchase department, overseeing billing, accounting and finance. So, I oversee the whole company.
Q – You specialize in hard grated Italian cheese. What’s the difference between hard grated cheese and the cheese you find on the grocery shelves?
A – No difference. So the regular Kraft Grated Parmesan cheese would be considered a hard Italian cheese. What we do a little differently than the majority of competitors in the industry is, we have a drying facility. So, what we do is we take the wheels of cheese and we great them down and then we pass them down this drying machine and what that does is it takes the moisture from 32% down to 17%-18%. That extends the shelf life from 30 days traditionally upwards to 180 days, even 365 days. So, we get it prepared that it could be stored on the shelf with no refrigeration and it could fit in your pantry and not go bad.
Q – You’re on grocery shelves. Do you also sell to pizzerias and restaurants?
A – Absolutely. That’s the bread-and-butter of the business. So, the food service, pizzeria and restaurant portion of the business, we distribute to all 50 states in the United States and 26 countries internationally.
Q – Why is the company called Milano’s cheese? Your last name isn’t Milano?
A – It’s not. So, my grandfather when he started the company with my mother, they trademarked a few different cities in Italy that they were going to go out and market with and over the years Milano’s just gained the most strength and traction. It just evolved into what we do business under.
Q – How big of an operation do you have? How many employees do you have?
A – About 250.
Q – That’s quite a few people to look after every day!
A – It is, but, we have a good team. We have a lot of family here. In addition to family, the employees also come along with their families as well. So, we have cousins, uncles, sisters, brothers, you name it. We have a real strong support group, and we have people who have been with us for 32-35 years? Since the inception of the company. We have a really dedicated strong workforce.
Q – That must mean they like being there.
A – Yeah.
Q – What a great advertisement that is for the company.
A – I think it is. Thank you. You know what it is. We’re a family owned and operated company. We look at people as people not employees that a lot of the bigger companies maybe don’t look at so closely. We understand that things happen. We understand nobody’s perfect. Things are perfect. But, we are flexible.
Q – How much competition do you really have? Are there other companies out there doing what you’re doing?
A – You, know, there’s definitely plenty. There’s about four or five big players that we bump up against every day. But, the difference between us and them is that we’re truly family owned and operated. At this point every one of our competitors have either a private equity firm attached to them or a bank or they’re just huge public companies at this point. So, we’re kind of the last of the Mohicans of the family owned and operated companies of the cheese world.
Official website: milanoscheese.com
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