There are several remarkable things I’ve been able to do since I started Philly Food Girl, but it wasn’t until recently that I found my number one: I received a private tour of Talluto’s Authentic Italian Food from Joe Talluto.
Talluto’s has been a household name in my own family for years. I’ve visited their South Philly location on 9th Street in the Italian Market more times than I can count, and was ecstatic when they opened a location in Ridley Park which is closer to my house. Talluto’s is known for their pasta, cut fresh from the sheet to order. The silken dough is wrapped in lined paper and completely transforms any pasta-eating experience. There’s just something about the texture of fresh pasta that puts any dry, boxed, pasta to shame. Needless to say, I was beyond excited when I was able to see this, along with many other products, being made first-hand at the factory.I approached the factory with visions of “Lavern & Shirley” mixed with “I Love Lucy” in my head; I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Upon arriving, I immediately noticed how old-school the small lobby area of Talluto’s is. With a few plaques sharing news articles, along with family photos, Talluto’s showed in the simplest way what their core values are: humility and family. This photo hanging from a lamp in the waiting room was a clear indication.
Joe (F) Talluto greeted me, introduced me to his father, Joseph (AM) Talluto, and was darted with questions from co-workers (family) along the way as he lead me to a conference room. It was apparent that this is such a tight-knit operation and Joe is the ring leader in all of it. The conference room was lined with calendars for the current and upcoming year, and there were two items I took notice of: “Meeting Ground Rules” and six principles which I thought to be the foundation of the company. Simple things to many, but with my background in banking, I know how important it is to keep the focus front and center.
Let me start by saying that Joe was so kind, and a gracious host. He knows Talluto’s inside and out, backwards and forwards, but isn’t forceful with it. There’s a clear and apparent distinction between someone who is externally hired to lead a company, and someone who is leading a company because they are internally a part of it. He has a genuine, vested interest in the business his grandfather started nearly 50 years ago. Which brings me to Joseph Talluto. In 1967, at 60 years old, Mr. Talluto decided to quit his job, sell his South Philadelphia home, and buy a pasta machine to start his own business. This is the kind of thing many people (me! me!) dream about doing on a daily basis, but which he actually did. It’s how many great things start: with a simple idea, and the passion to see it succeed. Later on, Talluto’s got running in a small factory in Norristown and after teaming with a large restaurant-chain, decided to expand it’s factory space by moving to a 50,000 sq.ft. facility just off 95 in Delaware County. After being in their new space only a short time, Talluto’s was forced to make an extreme business decision based on some not-so-great things happening within the restaurant-chain. After severing ties, income was cut by 40% and Talluto’s feared the worst was imminent. Instead of laying down and letting the business fold, Talluto’s sought new avenues to expand beyond just pasta and was slowly-but-surely able to reinvent itself through various partnerships including retail stores. A true testament to their character, the company never laid off a single employee nor cut wages. This is completely unheard of but typical to the passion and dedication Talluto’s encompasses.
In the conference room there is a display of a few of the partnerships Talluto’s shares. The packaging varies based on the audience and distribution location. Some items are frozen while others like the clear-packaged pasta below, are kept dry on the shelf.
We began our tour with hair nets and oversized white coats, which I will not be sharing a photo of (!!), except for this:
The factory was sectioned off into various areas: the main floor for pasta production, a kitchen for the pre-packaged items, a meat room (Talluto’s is USDA Certified. More on that later.), a refrigeration area, freezer, warehouse for packaging, and loading docks.
Walking into the main area, two things hit me at once. The smell and the cleanliness. This was cleaner than my own kitchen and produces copious amounts of food compared to my 2-3 meals per day. Still fresh in my mind is the aroma; the smells were amazing to me! When on the main pasta floor, all I could smell was the doughy pasta.
We started in the meal-prep room where a huge vessel greeted me with an aromatic batch of Rose’ sauce. The herbs, tomato, garlic, etc, were that distinct smell of when you walk into someone’s home and you immediately ask what they’re cooking. It smelled outstanding! The sauce steams to cook at approximately 180 degrees, and passes through a pipe on the other side where it can be sealed and packaged.
A handful of workers were scooping pasta, sauce, and peas into containers for pre-packaged meals. One size for individual servings, and another size for two people. Or as Joe and I agreed, one Italian. Fresh large shells were being boiled for stuffed shells and I was able to feel the texture before they were cooked.
Out on the main floor, there was one woman painstakingly filling every, single, shell, one, by, one. I couldn’t believe this was all done manually! By one person! She had trays on trays of shells filled with the creamy ricotta mixture. One-by-one she used a doughnut filler to pipe the ricotta into the shells, and placed them on a tray.
Joe asked the woman if she was still getting a lot of broken shells (one of the threads inside the machine was broken and the shells were getting stuck and cooking too long, thereby cracking). It was then that something struck me. He knew her name. As we walked through the factory, he knew everyone’s name. She alone had been with Talluto’s 15+ years. Their workers are loyal, and the ownership is just as loyal back. There’s really something to be said for that type of genuine interest in the staff. It’s not akin to a politician trying to remember people’s names and showing off as someone else is whispering the actual name in his ear. Joe knows these people. I’d venture to guess that he’s familiar with bits of their personal lives, and genuinely cares. And for them? There was no tension that “the boss” was walking around. There was no eye rolling, no nervousness, no hesitation or haste. Everyone was comfortable and this spoke volumes to me.
I was able to watch as pasta was being mixed, and Joe explained how they needed to add corn flour because the crops were different this year and without it, the pasta would crack instead of being smooth. The finished pasta was fed into a machine where it spat out ravioli by the dozens.
Talluto’s pays attention to every detail of their processes. Where they could have a machine package the ravioli automatically, they instead opt to have the conveyor belt drop the ravioli on to the table below where it flips over and the underside of the pasta can be inspected for any flaws. This makes so much sense! If you’re buying a box of ravioli and one is broken out of a dozen, that’s more than 8% of the package that’s unusable. To a consumer, that’s a big deal, and Talluto’s reinforces their standards of quality by this simple step. It slows down production, but it’s an integral part of ensuring customer satisfaction. The pasta then gets to nap until it can be packaged.
As soon as we walked into the refrigeration area, I could smell the earthy mushrooms that had just been roasted and were cooling. Dotted with fresh garlic, olive oil, and thyme, I wanted to pluck one right out of the pan, but refrained.
Container upon container lined the room, filled with various flavors of sauce made from San Marzano tomatoes and nothing but the freshest ingredients.
Adjacent to the packaging area is what looks like a metal detector, which is actually exactly what it is. Unbeknownst to me, it is not a requirement for factories to screen for metal in their products. Yes, you read that correctly! Talluto’s is one of the few local factories who is USDA Certified to handle meat, and who scans for metal in their products. To demonstrate how small of a piece of metal the machine detects, Joe showed me a booklet with various metal scraps that were smaller than 1 mm. Unreal!
We came full circle by wrapping up our tour of the factory sitting in the same conference room where we started. In my pockets were bits of pasta I had collected along the way (shell, wheat, regular).
I got the feeling that if the people are the heart of the operation, this room is the brains behind it all. One of the hanging posters boasts the founding principles of Talluto’s and I truly believe if everyone concentrated and adapted these values to their own lives/business/family, the results would be nothing but success:
Never Compromise (commitment to products, brand, or loyalty to customers, vendors and staff)
Family (honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, respect within and extended to all)
Responsive (encouragement of fresh ideas to new opportunities)
Unmatched Quality (commitment to the best)
Safety (devoted to a safe working environment for staff)
I was so overjoyed with getting to meet the Talluto family and touring their factory. They are a rarity in this hustle-and-bustle world of large corporations with imaginary owners. To celebrate such a great day, which I was very humbled by, I decided to do what I think Talluto’s intends for all of us to do… I shared with my family. “Sunday Gravy” surrounded by the people I love more than anything in the world: talking loud, laughing louder, kids trying to sit still, stories being told, organized chaos on a Sunday evening at my sister’s home. I can’t ask for anything better than that to fill my heart.
For a complete list of products, locations, and where you can get your hands on these amazing goods, visit http://www.tallutos.com/ and visit them on their social media sites for updates!