An Excerpt from the Book:
“My father developed a lifelong commitment to growth and improvement,
a culture which permeates the company to this day.”
Lorenza is the third generation in her family to run Volpi Foods, a dry-cured premium meat company with manufacturing facilities on The Hill. She received her MBA from Washington University in 1990, formally taking over from her father in 2003. During her involvement, the company has grown from $1 million to $70 million in revenue, becoming a national provider for supermarkets, restaurants, and retail chains. Despite Volpi’s size and growth in recent years, Lorenza sees traditional family values as the core of their success.
My great-uncle, John Volpi, emigrated from Italy in 1902. He and his wife started a dry-cured meat process on the Hill and soon became known for their salami, sausages, and prosciutto. They had no children, so they sent for the next available relative from Italy: at the age of 14, my father Armando Pasetti came over just before World War II, taking over the company in 1957 when Uncle John died.
When you are an Italian family making Italian food, the business is tied into everything you do. When Dad came home each night, he conveyed his love for the business, which made a big impression on me. He taught me the value of hard work and the importance of making a quality product. When I was thirteen, I recall working in the shipping area with my sisters, wrapping sausages before they were sent out. Being a typical teenager, I remember hoping that we would not get another order so that I could go to the pool; now, of course, there is always time for another order.
I originally planned to go to law school, but I wanted to learn more about how companies made money, where profit is not a four-letter word. I always had an interest in the business of food: I seriously considered going into the production of Gelato at one point, and then it clicked that I could do what I wanted with Volpi.
In 1990, I received my MBA from Washington University, which supplemented the practical knowledge that I learned from the shop floor. This helped me to understand the value that was in the company, and then how to take that value and grow it.
The dry-cured meat business is a manufacturer’s trade in a man’s world: there were many times when I was the only woman in the room. I had to work twice as hard to prove myself, and I also found that people would underestimate my drive, work ethic, and competitive nature. I tell other women business-owners to let others misjudge their abilities, and then (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) use the element of surprise to their advantage.
The process of dry-curing meat goes back to Roman times; dry-cured meat is a well-established product in Europe and Asia. Even though Volpi has been in business for over 115 years, the products are much less known in America, where the conversation tends to start and stop with beef jerky. There is so much more: most people have never experienced the differences in flavor between pancetta (rolled bacon), coppa (pork shoulder) or bresaola (beef). Prosciutto has become the most familiar primarily due to The Food Network. Each is a distinctive cut of meat, with different processes and curing times. The method is well-established and fairly straight-forward: the primary ingredient is salt, followed by a close monitoring of temperature, humidity, and airflow. It is important to control these things to have a consistent product.
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