1975, Richard Caggiano, made a deal with a local New Jersey Sicilian butcher that would forever change his life, and the quality of fresh sausage available in the market.
Nino’s Italian Market was a local Sicilian grocery and butcher shop in Upper Montclair, New Jersey. Three to four times a week, Richard would shop at Nino’s looking to buy anything that was coming out fresh – Hot Italian sausages hand-linked that morning, the first wedge from a new round of imported Pecarino Romano, focaccia straight from the oven... Over time, Richard became a regular and got to know Nino, a 5th generation Sicilian butcher revered across the city as a master of his craft. Richard and Nino made a deal – Richard would work as an apprentice on his days off and Nino would teach Richard how to make classic Italian sausages. They shook hands, and for the next two years (1975 – 1977) Richard cleaned the shop, worked the counter and studied how to make fresh sausages the traditional way.
Richard and Nino focused on three sausages, Sweet Italian, Hot Italian and Sicilian. (At Caggiano Company, these sausages are product codes 1, 2 and 3, in the order Richard originally learned to make them). Richard took away three key learnings during this time. 1) There are no shortcuts. Taking the time to do everything by hand will ensure focus and attention to detail. 2) Ingredients matter. The best fresh sausage starts with prime cuts of meat and the freshest of herbs. 3) Fresh sausage is never frozen. At Caggiano Company we continue these learnings and processes. Fresh and Smoked sausages continue to be made by hand. Prime cuts of pork are boned and trimmed by hand to remove any blemishes and ensure exact fat content. All herbs are purchased in fresh bunches and chopped by hand. All fresh sausage is made to order and never frozen.
Richard ended his apprenticeship with Nino in 1977 and continued to expand his craft while cooking for some of New York City’s top restaurants through 1980. One of which was The Palace restaurant, the most expensive restaurant in the country at the time, where Richard was the head rotissoire. In late 1980, Richard moved to Sonoma, California with hopes of opening his own restaurant as the executive chef. While searching for the right opportunity, he realized that traditional Italian sausages were nowhere to be found – At least none that met his standards. Desperate to satisfy his craving, Richard and his new wife, Kathy, looked for a small place to make just enough sausage for themselves.
Crow’s meats was a local specialty meat shop in Napa that happened to have a small room in the back. When Richard approached Weldon Crow about renting the room and how much it would cost, Mr. Crow said, “Go for it. No charge. Good luck”. Thinking back, Richard noted that Mr. Crow as really just looking to give a guy a shot. It wasn’t about the money; it was about being a good neighbor.
Richard and Kathy started slow. After working their respective full-time jobs, they would work nights at Crow’s to make enough sausage for themselves and their friends. Eventually, their friends, many of whom were in the restaurant business, began to ask for more, not only to eat but to sell in their restaurants. As the orders started to grow, Richard had to decide if he wanted to turn his passion into his business. Unsure of the prospect, Richard sought the advice of Gerhard Twele of Gerhard’s Napa Valley Sausage, the largest sausage manufacturer in the area. When Richard introduced himself, Mr. Twele said “Caggiano? I’ve had your stuff, its really good but you will never profit making sausage the way you do. Too much labor and too much time. Sausage is about volume”.
While the business advice Richard received from Mr. Twele was appreciated, it was not heeded. Richard believed that if he continued with the principals he learned from Nino and focused on hand-crafting the highest quality sausage available in the market, customers would follow.
1986, Caggiano Company began. Over the next 34 years, Richard slowly grew his artisan sausage company to service the finest independent markets and restaurants in the California, Bay Area.
In 2020, a time of uncertainty for most, Richard brought on Brandon Martinez as a partner to ensure the lessons and traditions learned in 1975 are continued well into the future. Richard and Brandon remain steadfast in their dedication to quality and delivering the finest sausages available in the market.
When talking about what is has taken to get Caggiano Company to this point, Richard said, “building this company has been a wild ride. Working through recessions, wild fires, pandemics, and whatever else life throws as us, our customers can always count on the quality of our product and our dedicated support”.