DelGrosso: A Multi-Generational – and Multi-Talented – PA Legacy
A third-generation family-run, homegrown business, The DelGrosso Family of Companies uniquely stands out as both an amusement park operator and a sauce manufacturer. The family operates a sauce plant in Blair County’s Tipton, Pa., on the premises of DelGrosso’s Amusement Park and Laguna Splash Water Park, America’s only Italian-themed water park. We recently spoke with Michael DelGrosso, vice president of global sales and marketing at DelGrosso Foods, about how the DelGrosso family has proudly called Altoona home since the beginning of their story, and the many reasons why they’ve chosen to stay.
My family has had two beginnings in Pennsylvania. First is my great-grandmother, Marianna Pulcino, and her tradition of serving pasta sauce in her neighborhood in a little café in Altoona, and to her family. We count that as the beginning in 1914, well before commercial production.
Her daughter (my grandmother) Mafalda, also known as Murf, was waiting tables one day at Mom’s Café in 1936, when in walked Fred DelGrosso, a railroader who had made a wrong turn. He sat at her table, and the rest is history.
Fred and Murf eventually married, and in 1943 bought a small restaurant on 17th Street in Altoona, which they named DelGrosso’s Café. Armed with Marianna’s original sauce recipe, they soon became famous for serving the best spaghetti dinner in town.
My grandfather was always looking for business opportunities, and he thought, ‘Well, gosh, we need to can this product.’ It might sound obvious today, but back then, there were only a few sauces in stores: Ragu and Chef Boyardee. To commercially produce pasta sauce was a novel idea, especially for a small Pennsylvania family who had no resources.
An unlikely pair: sauce and an amusement park
A seemingly impulsive decision in 1946 to sell DelGrosso’s Café and buy an amusement park — formerly Bland’s Amusement Park, and now DelGrosso’s Amusement Park — is what offered Fred and Murf the opportunity to make their sauce. The building in the back of the park was basically a garage, and had the right conditions to create a small sauce factory. They moved their large family into a small house within the park and began producing sauce in 1947. The house still stands today, and is home to the park’s offices.
Luckily, they had a big family and a lot of friends in the Altoona area, because they needed a lot of people to make their business endeavor successful. By the 1970s, the sauce operation had expanded to Pittsburgh and other markets. The DelGrosso brand had come a long way from its humble beginnings — it enjoyed TV commercials featuring former Pittsburgh Steelers star Franco Harris, a print campaign, photo shoots, and more. In 1979, the family built a new sauce plant on the property, which remains the manufacturing site today.
Since the launch of the new plant, DelGrosso Foods has had two major developments — one of which was entering the private-label business and producing other brands alongside the DelGrosso brand. We have more than 300 recipes in the sauce plant — a few dozen of our own, and the rest are for other companies. This allowed us to continue our operations in the 1980s and steadily grow through the ’90s.
The second major move came in 2006, when we launched a high-end specialty line, La Famiglia DelGrosso. Made with specialty tomatoes imported from Italy and premium ingredients, this line of sauces is found in stores nationwide, including California, Oregon, and Hawaii. The original DelGrosso brand is still sold in Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, and small pockets within Maryland, Virginia, and New York.
Growing Pennsylvania roots
My family has called the Altoona area home for generations. Success in PA was never a guarantee. And with so much private label production in the DelGrosso portfolio, expansion to a West Coast plant might seem logical, given that 95 percent of all processed tomatoes in America come from California’s Central Valley.
However, we have reaped the benefits of operating our business in Central PA, including a Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority (PIDA) loan from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), low-cost operations, a skilled workforce with a healthy work ethic, and a clean, abundant water supply. People in Pennsylvania take pride in a good day’s work, and a fair day’s wage, and that’s a testament to manufacturing’s legacy in PA.
A welcoming community is also a factor, and we like to give back to those who have supported us. Every year, we donate tons of pasta sauce to food banks and soup kitchens in the region, as well as to other causes. The culinary traditions that our family brought from Italy in the early 1900s have taken root in Pennsylvania, and have grown steadily over three generations. Thanks to abundant resources, a dedicated workforce, and a supportive community, we have been able to build a business that’s created jobs, given back to our neighbors, and served as a symbol of pride in our great state.
For more information on manufacturing in Pennsylvania, watch our Made in PA video or visit DCED’s website. Follow DCED on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to learn more about PA’s advantages and how citizens #WorkSmartLiveHappy. Become a Keystone Ally, and help us spread positive PA news.
Michael DelGrosso was born and raised in central PA and began work in the family business at age 10. After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy and serving in the Navy, Michael began his post-military career in Michigan’s automotive supply industry. After earning his MBA from the University of Michigan, he worked as a management consultant. Michael is now the Vice President of Global Sales and Marketing for DelGrosso Foods, where he is focused on developing and marketing new product lines and international expansion.