CHARLOTTE, NC. — What started as a hobby is now getting Andy and Melanie Tritten up before the sun.
"I always made sauce, a lot of it, just on a whim, and it would be everywhere and we'd start giving it away," said Melanie Tritten.
But after years of cooking for fun, this self-taught chef wanted to share her love for roasted tomatoes and fresh herbs with her community.
Within a few months, the couple perfected Melanie’s recipes and Cannizzaro Sauces was born. The husband-wife team makes six different sauces and sells them in stores across seven states, even shipping them across the country.
"There are a lot of painstaking things," said Melanie. "We seed in all of our tomatoes. I hand core every tomato. He chops all the onions. He has goggles he has to wear because there's so many!" she laughed.
"It is a labor of love, and very labor intense, and if it takes time, it means that it's good."
When the pandemic hit, the Trittens were surprised and relieved that the tasty recipes they were cooking up were on nearly everyone’s shopping list.
"When we saw that the shelves were cleared, we said to ourselves, 'We got to get cooking. We got to get cooking because people need it,'" said Melanie.
From neighborhood shops to big box stores, Cannizzaro Sauces were filling shelves when other products were out of stock. You can order anything you find in stores online HERE.
"A normal order for us from our distributor maybe once a month is about 60 cases, and then our first order after this happened, and it happened very quickly, it was for 225. And then another one, and then another one, and we were just in here triple time," said Melanie.
They even had to bring in help.
"Our cars are full of hundreds of pounds of tomatoes. I mean, it was everything we could think of to do. We were bringing friends in who lost their jobs could come in and help us label," said Melanie.
Their business is a unique success story in the midst of so many shutdowns and losses for family businesses this year.
"I work for a family-owned restaurant. That's my other job, my ‘job job,’ and it's been hard to watch it. We're lucky that we happened to pick something that we love to do that survives this. Who would have thought? So, we're lucky, and we're hopeful for everybody else," said Melanie.
That luck is something so many other local businesses have been wishing for but haven’t seen. However, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) said online shops and the movement to support small business is only growing.
"The hope is still there, but we’ve seen more go out of business this year than we saw in 2008 and 2009. But, we’ve anecdotally heard from them, things are better," said Tom Bartholomy, with the BBB.
That may be in part because shoppers are making more of an effort to find local businesses. According to a Nextdoor survey, 72 percent of members said they will frequent local businesses more often, even after this crisis.
The National Retail Federation says nearly half of all shoppers have made a purchase specifically to support local, small businesses during the pandemic.
"I hear that a lot: ‘We want to support local. We want to support local,’" said Tritten.
It’s a trend this couple is paying forward with their own work. They’re collecting homemade items from other family-owned businesses and boxing them up for Christmas.
"We made a ‘Local Loves’ basket with elderberry syrup, like all sorts of things that people like to get and made these really cute baskets with them, and they're flying. We made 20 of them yesterday for one customer. So now, we can keep going and finding more and more local people, pandemic or not, to keep making those baskets all year," Melanie said.
The Trittens are hoping the love they have for their business will be felt by all who taste their sauces.
"The reaction that people get trying to for the first time is probably one of the most rewarding things for me."
They say the silver lining this pandemic brought them is a blessing they will dedicate their lives to protecting. The couple says their hope is to be able to hire more people and create more jobs.