|Jeff Robinson works in the kitchen at Langdon Farms. His business launches its first summer season this year. (Paul E. Kandarian for The Boston Globe)|
62 Marion Road, Mattapoisett
Suggested retail price of a 24-ounce jar of Langdon Sauce is $6
Ever cook something at home so good people say, "You should bottle that and make a fortune?"
Jeff Robinson has done just that - minus the fortune part, at least for now.
Robinson is in his first summer season at Langdon Farms, his start-up business on Route 6, which features his homemade marinara sauce, something that stemmed from folks telling him they loved his pasta sauce.
"I've always been a gardener, and I've grown tomatoes and made the stuff for years," said Robinson, 45, who lives in Rochester. "I've made sauces for family, for friends, for neighbors, and they all loved it."
He'd been working as a comptroller for the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth, a job he left in early 2008, giving him time to find the space to launch his business.
He came across a spot in the building holding How on Earth, a successful organic food store dedicated to selling primarily local foods, and thought it was ideal. Friends helped transform the small space into a gleaming, fully equipped commercial kitchen, and the business kicked off in September of last year.
His main product is his marinara sauce, but this summer he plans to add sweet pepper and onion cacciatore, oven-roasted garlic, Romano/Parmesan cheese, and vodka marinara sauces. As always, he said, he uses locally grown tomatoes, including his own Rochester-grown ones and those purchased from Walter Dixon in Rochester, C.N. Smith in Bridgewater, and Ward's Berry Farm in Sharon.
The marinara sauce is smooth and loaded with sweet chunks of Roma tomato. It's a rather thin blend, which Robinson said some may like and some may not, as the sauce tends to pool around the steaming pasta. But it does stick to the noodles well, and is perfectly seasoned.
The sauce is produced in a small but serviceable kitchen dominated by two stainless steel cookers, each capable of cooking 60 gallons of sauce.
He does the bottling here and prints the labels as well, and it's largely a family operation. His father, Fred Robinson, designed the label, and Jeff's wife, Meg, along with their kids - Maggie, 16, Abby, 14, and Joe, 7 - do the bottling and labeling and whatever else they can to help.
Another part of the new business is packaging products for others, Robinson said.
He's bottling a line of organic tonic for someone and said he may be bagging organic oatmeal for another customer.
"We'll work with the customer on whatever they want to sell - they hire me to get it into the jar and make it shelf-stable," he said. "The cost can run anywhere from $1.50 to $3.25 a jar or whatever the package is. If it takes longer to cook, the charge would be more."
The advantage, he said, "is I can do small batches. If you came to me with a . . . pepper relish recipe, I could do that in small batches. If you went to a large bottler, you may have to order a minimum 60,000 jars. I can do 10 to 20, whatever you want."
He sells his marinara in local stores, including at his location and the adjacent How On Earth store, and also at Lloyd's Market in Rochester, Tihonet Village Market in Wareham, The Market at Pinehills in Plymouth; and at his biggest boon so far, Trucchi's Supermarkets, a family-run grocery store chain with locations in Abington, West Bridgewater, New Bedford, and two in Taunton.
"That's a great operation, I dealt with Bill Trucchi directly and that's not likely to happen with huge food chains," Robinson said. "He took all my calls, and made the appointments himself. That's the beauty of dealing with smaller businesses locally."
He also plans to get involved with local Community Supported Agriculture cooperatives, which sell shares of local produce to customers who pick them up a few times a season.
He's also targeting small farm stands and farmers markets, doing whatever it takes to get his sauce from the field to the table.
He launched his business just as the economy tanked last fall, and isn't sure what's ahead, but he knows he loves doing it.
"But you know what, if I don't sell a single jar, I'm successful," he said, smiling. "Just the connections I've made, personal and business, it's all been worth it. And I'm doing my own thing."
Paul E. Kandarian