Thanks to inclusion on this year’s Oprah’s Favorite Things, jars are flying off start-up company’s shelves
Dr. Joe Ilvento and daughter, Juliana Fitzpatrick, right, with Amy Isabella Chalker, owner of Isabella Gourmet Foods in Santa Barbara. The father-daughter duo recently brought their Ilvento’s Proprio Italiano sauce to the store as part of a benefit for the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County. (Judy Foreman / Noozhawk photo)
Please permit a boast, if you will. Back in 2014, I wrote about a start-up Italian tomato sauce company owned by Dr. Joe Ilvento, a local cardiologist, and his attorney daughter, Juliana Ilvento Fitzpatrick.
The endeavor was based on family recipes from the elder Ilvento’s family’s restaurant, which was opened in Jersey City, N.J., in 1933 by his grandfather, Joe, and passed down to his father, Pete.
The feature article turned out to be my second most-read column of that year .
At the time, Ilvento’s Proprio Italiano (Truly Italian) was being made and bottled at Julia Crookston’s Goodland Kitchen & Market in Old Town Goleta and had sold 24 jars — thanks to Isabella Gourmet Foods in downtown Santa Barbara and Legacy in Montecito.
The main ingredient, according to the father-daughter duo, is the wonderful plum tomatoes they import directly from San Marzano in Italy’s Sarno Valley. Grown near Mount Vesuvius, the volcanic soil infuses the tomatoes with a great smoky flavor, even before cooking them. The tomatoes carry the Italian government’s highest certification.
This year has been a game changer. It recently was revealed on ABC’s Good Morning America that Ilvento’s Proprio Italiano sauces made the cut for Oprah Winfrey’s annual Oprah’s Favorite Things in the latest O Magazine.
The “Ilvento’s Proprio Italiano Doppio Delizioso” gift basket contains a gift set of two sauces and one pasta presented with a logo flour sack towel and heirloom family recipe cards held in a useful colander.
According to magazine creative director Adam Glassman, the holidays begin the summer before, when he scouts prospects at gifts shows and markets across the country. He and Gayle King, a veteran sidekick of Winfrey’s, cull and chat with the entertainment mogul via Skype to narrow the picks.
“We try everything and gain weight doing that,” Glassman said.
In August, they do a big summit at a rented studio and spend two days going through more than 500 items. The team tries to choose items based on relevancy. Among the questions to be answered: Will people like it? Will it bring joy and passion to their lives?
Of course, it’s also about things that Winfrey wants to give to her family and friends.
Glassman knows that companies are really “made” by being on Oprah’s Favorite Things list. All companies, including the Ilventos’, are scrutinized and vetted.
This year, O magazine is also sourcing stocking stuffers and bigger gifts at a variety of prices on Amazon.com. With the convenience of the online retailer, Glassman suspects a lot of Oprah’s Favorite Things will sell out before Christmas.
When I caught up with the Ilventos — including Dr. Judy Dean, a radiologist and Joe’s wife and Juliana’s mom — at a recent fundraiser for the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, they were as surprised at being included on the Winfrey wish list as the rest of those chosen for the honor.
They also were grateful for Noozhawk’s original coverage when they first launched the business.
Winfrey revealed her picks on her TV show and in print. After her mere mention of the Ilventos’ sauce — and the gift basket included in Good Morning America’s “Deals and Steals” segment, the Ilventos had sold 14,000 jars of sauce even before the magazine came out.
Winfrey — one of the most famous residents of the 93108 — happens to be a longtime neighbor of the Ilventos, and has come to know and love their authentic, slow-cooked sauces and welcoming, family-style entertaining.
They truly are honored by Winfrey’s recognition.
“She’s discovered many great food products from small companies, and I’m thrilled that she likes our sauces,” Ilvento told Noozhawk.
His daughter went even further.
“Oprah is not only a media icon, but also an inspiration to young businesswomen,” she said.
Click here for more information about Ilvento’s Proprio Italiano, including the complete line of sauces and recipes.