California Bear

Francesca Pittaluga Stirs Up the Secret to Her Italian Inspired, California-made Marinara Sauce

2022 is shaping up to be an exceptional year for Francesca Pittaluga. February saw the official launch of Ciao Pappy, a gourmet marinara sauce and lifestyle brand that she cofounded with her dad Andrea (fondly called Pappy, the brand’s namesake) and her then fiancé Matt. Then in June, Francesca and Matt were married in an intimate ceremony in the coastal town of Sestri Levante on the Italian riviera, a short drive from Pappy’s hometown of Genoa. Since returning from their Mediterranean nuptials, Francesca has had to hit the road full speed as the small family business she started as a passion project is now rapidly becoming an entrepreneurial success story.

The concept of Ciao Pappy took shape during the recent pandemic lockdowns, but its roots go back decades to Genoa and Andrea’s family recipes passed on through generations. When Andrea (Pappy) moved to the U.S., he brought with him his love of family, food and Italian culture, especially the tradition of shared family meals. He also brought the family recipes including the marinara sauce.   

Settling in Columbus, Ohio, Pappy carried on the tradition of sharing meals with his own family and it soon became a cherished Pittaluga nightly ritual. An accomplished home chef, Pappy believes that all it takes to make a delicious meal is a few simple, fresh and high-quality ingredients. His culinary philosophy and techniques inspired Francesca’s love of food and cooking. 

Francesca majored in Italian studies at Ohio State and pursued a successful career in communications in the fashion industry including working with luxury brand Brunello Cucinelli. She moved to Los Angeles in 2008. Though she continued to enjoy preparing home-made Italian cuisine, her busy schedule made it challenging to find time to prepare her favorite dishes especially from scratch. Yet she was loathe to buy marinara in a jar, noting that most of the available tomato sauces were subpar.

Then the pandemic hit and Francesca like so many of us, found herself laid-off with abundant free time and slightly less cash flow. While in lockdown, she began making the family marinara recipe with her father’s spin on the classic red sauce. For the 2020 holiday season, Francesca, Pappy and Matt bottled the marinara in glass jars to share with family and friends.

The following February they decided to host a charity drive in which they would donate 100% of their proceeds to the AARP charitable affiliate OATS (Older Adults Technology Services), an organization whose mission is harnessing the power of tech to improve the lives of seniors. Much to their surprise, they sold over 400 jars of their sauce, purely through social media. They knew they were on to something and Ciao Pappy was born.

With the tagline “Based in L.A., rooted in Italy,” Ciao Pappy blends Italian heritage with California spirit. As Francesca shares, “The (marinara) recipe has been passed down through generations, but my father has put his flair on the recipe. He really brought the most creativity into the kitchen in our lineage.” With Ciao Pappy, they opted to keep the Italian influence but create a California centric product.

Shifting from making small batches in a home kitchen to producing a marketable shelf-stable food product presented a new set of challenges. Having come from a fashion background, Francesca had no experience in the food industry.

“I was navigating a completely different industry,” she says. “I had no contacts. I needed to learn about all the certifications, production requirements and health standards. But I’m savvy and scrappy. I was essentially self-taught. It took one year of research and development to perfect the formulation of our family recipe. And we went through a few kitchens before we found one that was just the right fit and met our elevated standards.”

“We wanted to create a brand for the modern kitchen and modern family. Something that is rustic yet has a modern flare for foodies who care about quality ingredients yet also prioritize convenience. And something with a strong aesthetic that looks sharp in a pantry.” Francesca continues, “The name Ciao Pappy was Matt’s idea. We originally used it for my dad’s Instagram account.” To complement the brand name, Francesca asked Laura Cunningham, an Ohio-based artist and old friend from high school to design a sketch of Pappy that is now the brand logo.

Ciao Pappy is free of preservatives, dyes, paste and thickeners. It’s non-GMO, and gluten free. As Francesca describes, “We use only the highest quality ingredients and they are all farmed in California. We love what California has to offer…the quality, flavors and taste of the tomatoes grown here. And our kitchen is in California.”

There are two styles of the Ciao Pappy signature sauce. Marinara Classico is a classic red tomato sauce made with fresh, simple ingredients. It complements any dish and is vegan friendly. Marinara alla Pappy features Pappy’s signature flair. Its rich flavors and texture are described as having an “Italian tickle.” It too goes well with any cuisine and can also be used as a dipping sauce.

Currently Ciao Pappy is available in 75 gourmet grocers and specialty retailers, half of which in are in California “Our goal is to be in over 100 stores by year end and make our mark on California, then move east,” shares Francesca. “Ultimately we want to be in every top specialty store in the nation. And we’d like to expand Ciao Pappy into a complete modern Italian pantry.” 

Their aspirations for Ciao Pappy go beyond creating delicious high-quality products. The company ethos is written right on its label “to bring families and communities together through sharing food.” They continue to donate a portion of all sales to OATS. “Ciao Pappy is a true labor of love,” says Francesca. “Sharing food creates happiness, joy and connection.”

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