When Chuck Ross started F.A. Nino’s Artisan Products, it was out of necessity. But Ross’ passion and authenticity is the driving force behind the company, leading to exponential growth that’s still coming to fruition.
Starting at Sonoma County farmers markets selling hot sauce, barbeque sauce and dry rubs in 2009, Ross’ creation hit the shelves at Oliver’s Market within three months of its first sale. Now, F.A. Nino’s products are in more than 700 stores, including Safeway, Raley’s and Save Mart, and the Petaluma-based company boasts a catering operation that features its own products.
F.A. Nino’s was born from the 2008 recession, when Ross, then a sous chef at a local restaurant, found himself out of work, along with millions of other Americans. To solve his predicament, Ross reached back to his roots; as a child, he learned authentic cooking techniques from his grandmother, who hails from Guadalajara, Mexico. “My grandmother had me in her arms when I was a baby as she was cooking for the family,” says Ross, whose lessons continued on summer trips from his Marinwood home to San Bernardino, Calif., throughout his childhood. “She taught me a lot of techniques, like using a molcajete, which is a mortar and pestle, to grind spices.” Ross’ grandfather, meanwhile, taught him how to hunt, fish and butcher animals, aided by knife skills honed in the military. When at home, Ross learned to cook Mediterranean fare from his mother, who is of Italian decent. “I infused all those techniques together. I wanted to tap into that and share it with people because it gives meaning to what we do.”
Ross’ ability grew after he entered the catering industry at just 12 years of age. He prepared French food and refined skills that were second nature by that time. “That brought everything together,” says Ross. “I learned on the job with a knife in my hand in a high-pressure environment, and I loved it. I love it still.”
That love is now expressed at F.A. Nino’s Artisan Products. Its sauces feature flavor more than heat to enhance food, rather than overpower it. Ross still gets to cook thanks to the company’s catering division, which started eight months after he sold his first bottle of sauce. F.A. Nino’s brings its flavor to a variety of functions, from corporate parties at Kaiser Permanente, to events at wineries and breweries. “We call it custom catering. We tailor menus depending what the event is, be it a wedding, graduation, a family party or business party,” says Ross, who adds that menus are decided via email correspondence with his customers. “Everything is made with our product. All the meats are seasoned with our rubs, we braise meats in our sauces and we make our own dressings.”
Though F.A. Nino’s growth over the last decade is impressive, Ross isn’t done expanding. The company will roll out new labeling in 2020; it will still feature a silhouette of his godfather, who the company is named after along with Ross’ father. Expanded production will arrive alongside the refreshed label when F.A. Nino’s moves to an organic bottling facility. “I’ll be spending a lot of time there, making sure we maintain our handcrafted concept,” Ross says.
As for the future, a cannabis-infused sauce is in the works. F.A. Nino’s is discussing a deal with The Galley, a Santa Rosa-based cannabis co-manufacturing and distribution company and Revelation, a cannabis manufacturer in Graton to complete the project in early 2020.
Though Ross’ achievements are stacking up, he continues to make time for his grandmother—who still has lessons for he grandson. “To this day we have mole sauce competitions, and she wins,” he says. “I’m just doing it to learn.” Through Ross’ ongoing, lifelong culinary journey, he’s learned plenty, with results to show for it. But perhaps most endearing, he’s rolled with the punches and hasn’t changed with success. “The company grew organically with the skills and the passion we’ve had since day one. There’s no pretentious behavior. We’re just hard-working people. I’ve got food for you, and let’s have a good time.”
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