Many people harbor a dream to go after and pursue their passion, leaving behind their current career. Few take the leap. Mike DeMassimo, president and owner of Columbus based De Massimo’s Authentic Sauces, knew the risks, felt the fear, and leapt anyways.
For DeMassimo, leaving his job in education of 18 years to pursue a passion for pasta sauce, was a calculated risk that took a lot of forethought and research as well as making sure his wife was on board with the change.
“I thank God that I have Bethany. Without crying, she’s the best wife in the world. She didn’t have to go along with this. If she would have said that night, when I said “look, I want to take this jump, this leap“, she very easily could have said “Mike, we can’t do that.” And I probably would have been like “You’re right. You’re right”,” said DeMassimo
“So she has been on board, supportive, an encourager. There are definitely hills and valleys with starting your own business from the ground up and I thank God that I have her, because if I didn’t, I couldn’t do it. There would be no way.”
In addition to the support of his wife, DeMassimo knew that this was a change that would also affect the entire family.
“My son Anthony was upset at first because he was hoping that when he got into the school I was a Principal at, that I would be his Principal,” said DeMassimo. But that hesitation quickly turned into family participation and lessons.
This new venture has proven to be a different type of education. Both for his family, who has had the experience of learning the ropes of having their own family business (Wife Bethany is co-owner, and the couple’s 2 oldest children, Anthony and AJ, as well as Mike’s siblings, Jason, Joy and Monica and his parents Cheryl and Dave, all chip in on a regular basis, to do tastings at local Farmer’s Markets, grocery stores, and food fairs), to educating their customers about De Massimo’s product-line and ingredients.
So many thoughts and decisions go into a change like this, not the least of which is the effect it will have on your family and the sense of security that, at times, you have to be willing to give up, opting instead to be a little bit uncomfortable for a while.
“Yeah, I mean, first and foremost, it was just, the lifestyle I was living, in terms of family life, being comfortable. I made good money and we have 3 kids and there was a certain way that the family operated and all that. That’s actually been the biggest hurdle, struggle, whatever you want to call it. I’m a pretty positive person (though) and the way I look at it it’s been cool to see my kids experience what we’re doing. The growing pains of a new business and the switch from one career to a totally different career and cutting fat from the budget and just doing things in a different way, and seeing their Dad work in a different way too and I look at that as, that’s all healthy.
If it grows and we just become bigger and bigger and better and better, you have more of an outreach and build a legacy and they take it over and whatever, and that’s great, OR, if things don’t go the way we want them to go, then you know what? I think that they benefited from that experience,” said DeMassimo, while admitting that it has been a challenging transition at times.
It’s always been about so much more than pasta sauce for DeMassimo, though. It’s been about sharing the history, heritage and traditions of his family, as well as a desire to affect the lives of many through the history, authentic Italian heritage and family traditions, behind his product.
While DeMassimo always had a desire to honor the matriarchs of his family in some way, it was the words of a teacher while DeMassimo served as a principal at Olentangy Liberty High School, that pushed the envelope off of the proverbial desk that motivated DeMassimo to pick it up and examine it closer.
A teacher DeMassimo worked with, came into DeMassimo’s office, and as they were discussing education and passions, said the words that would become one of the catalysts for DeMassimo to consider taking the leap.
He said “You know what you should do? You should sell your favorite pasta sauces at local farmer’s markets.”
“Once he said that, there was something that perked in my mind and I thought “hey, that sounds pretty cool”, because I wanted to do something to honor my grandmothers and my mother. I’ve always wanted to do something,” said DeMassimo.
Born and raised in Cleveland, starting his business out in local farmer’s markets seemed a natural way to make that leap from education to pasta sauce.
“I’d often say that I want to do more than plant a tree or do something like a foundation in their honor.” Due to his memories of the matriarchs in the family making pasta sauce, and their profound effect on him, this was a perfect fit.
It all started with a recipe for a sauce, simmered in tradition and inspired by DeMassimo’s paternal and maternal grandmothers, as well as his own mother.
“So there’s just been their influence throughout my life, of these women, just who they are. I just loved being around them and watching them cook in the kitchen,” said DeMassimo (MORE HERE about how they inspired him)
I know why I’m doing it. Do I want to lucrative? Yeah, absolutely. But that’s not what’s driving me. I don’t wake up in the morning and go to bed at night and think, man, I just can’t wait to make a million dollars or $10 million. That’s not what’s driving me. What’s driving me is what the DeMassimo family stands for, and what we want to bring to people, and if that means our business grows because of that? Then fantastic. If it means that our business doesn’t grow, then okay.
But I feel that we’ve already had blessings bestowed upon us and it’s going to be even more and through that, we’re going to be able to bestow blessings on other people, so it’s almost like the sauce is a conduit for other things.
But ultimately, this is how I look at it. I’ve got one life, and I tell my kids this too, a lot, one life, and I’m not going to sit around waiting for something to happen and wish that something’s going to happen, and I had something that flashed before me, and it’s not only growing a business and making money, and pasta sauce, whatever, but this is all about family and having people experience, you know, family. I know it’s only a jar of sauce, but I look at it different.
That’s how I look at it. If your dinner table is the way that I got there? I’m all for it. But I just feel, there’s more. I want people who buy our sauce to maybe look at the label or get on social media be like “okay, okay” and see something bigger than just sauce. You know? I want them to see Italy. That’s what I want. I feel like that that’s what the Lord wants me to do. There’s no way He is sitting up there saying “I just want that kid to sell some sauce.” There’s something bigger.
“If I could affect people positively through my family’s name and through a product, man, like, I’m glad that I took that jump.”
One thing is for sure. Grandma Ioffredi and Grandma DeMassimo would certainly be proud, and honored. And Mom most definitely is.~