Lipari Foods, a world class food distributor
Jim Lipari holds a bottle of Bazzo’s Barbecue Sauce up to the Kevin Hewitt’s camera and proudly announces its most unique selling point: unlike tomato-based sauces, Bazzo’s won’t burn when exposed to grill temperatures. Forty years after Bazzo’s went out of business, Jim Lipari still sounds like he’s selling it!
The importance of that little jar of Bazzo’s—the only original jar left—to the empire that today is known as Lipari Foods, can’t be overstated. It was this product, which Jim Lipari sold out the back of his Buick station wagon in the mid-Sixties, that propelled him to wholesale superstardom.
We interviewed this spectacular gentlemen in a future conference room of Lipari Foods’ soon to be opened 270,000 square foot warehouse in Warren. Lipari Foods has been instrumental in supporting production of Our Italian Story, so we were delighted to find that the patriarch of the company, which grossed nearly a quarter billion dollars in 2005, had a story to tell that was as inspiring as it was entertaining.
Jim Lipari was born on Detroit’s east side, one of six children of an Italian American grocery family. Beginning at the age of ten or so, each of the Lipari kids was expected to play a role in running the store, from serving customers to breaking down cuts of meat. Jim trained early as a butcher, an art of which he is justifiably proud to this day, as well as his then-unheard of innovation of pre-cutting meat and displaying it in meat counter windows. Prior to that, customers had demanded individually prepared cuts, done while they waited, but Jim’s combination of people-skills and marketing savvy won the day. Soon, other markets were emulating this time-saving technique.
As a young adult, he continued in the trade, owning a number of stores in the predominantly Italian sections of town, but like all mom ‘n’ pop type operations, felt the competition of chain supermarkets begin to tap into his customers. By 1963, seeing the handwriting on the wall, Jim sold up. He was left with a little cash and a recipe for Bazzo’s Barbecue Sauce.
Having developed customer service skills throughout his years behind the grocery counter, Lipari was able to expand his product line in steady degrees, and in 1967, his fledgling company was appointed by Frank's Tea & Spice to be a distributor, propelling the former butcher into a wide assortment of spice products.
Growth has been phenomenal, especially since Jim’s son Thom became involved. Some of Tom’s innovations have included selling frozen dough to bakeries and a successful foray into deli items. Today, Lipari Foods distributes in nine states, and is expanding at a rate of more than twenty-five million dollars annually.
Still, at the heart of the business, as we found in our heartfelt interview with Jim, and later with Thom, is family. Affectionately, Thom says, “We may get into some pretty heated discussions at work about work, but one thing my dad taught me was, ‘Never bring it home.’ People are amazed that we can argue to beat heck in the office, then go out to dinner like nothing’s happened. But that’s just the way it is with family. You take nothing personally about business decisions.”
A special thanks to Bishop Design for re-creating a store from the days gone by for Jim to reminisce in.