“My quick and successful growth is 100% due to the guidance and mentorship I received from the Marin SBDC. If you want to grow your business, I highly recommend that you work with the Marin SBDC!”
True Delicious’ owner, Antonio (Tony) Russo, grew up in Italy with a love for food. Following traditional recipes and using wholesome and simple ingredients came from watching his dad run his brick and mortar bakery. In 2018, Tony decided to take a leap of faith and start his own business to make ‘better for you’ sweets and natural Italian products, starting with a classic Italian product, biscotti, as well as selling cakes to restaurants and food service providers in the Bay Area.
Antonio (Tony) Russo, grew up in Italy in his dad’s bakery. His love for food, following traditional recipes, and using wholesome and simple ingredients came from watching his dad run his brick-and-mortar bakery.
Tony spent a lot of time researching ingredients and found as many as possible that were local to California. He wanted his products to be of high quality, free of preservatives, contain less sugar, and to be made with ingredients you can pronounce. His care and passion for food soon paid off, as his company quickly grew from being in twenty local stores in the first year (Woodlands, Andy’s Harvest Market, Andronico’s, Italian Markets, Petaluma Market), to over 250 stores in five states by his third year.
Tony attributes much of his success and is thankful for the assistance he got from the Marin SBDC. For Tony, success means connecting to the customers and letting the brand speak for itself.
Tony came to the SBDC only a few months after starting his business. He was highly focused on the product and customer, but still sought guidance on how to run his new food business to ensure that he didn’t make any costly mistakes.
He was paired with SBDC advisor, Anni Minnuzo, who helped him understand everything about packaging his products for the North American market and successfully selling products in stores. They worked on the distribution process, pricing, branding, sales–as well as determining the best course to get into stores and making his products stand out on the shelves.
The pandemic caused Tony to spend many sleepless nights, unsure of how his business was going to grow and what challenges he would face. Pre-pandemic, 50% of his business was selling to supermarkets, and 50% was selling cakes to food services/restaurants. The pandemic caused him to lose all the cake sales to restaurants but was able to make up for that loss by selling more products online. The shifting costs of goods created another challenge for Tony, with flour increasing by 60%, chocolate and eggs rising to 40%, and packaging doubling in price.
Anni Minuzzo, Tony’s Marin SBDC Advisor, has not only assisted Tony in setting clear and attainable goals, but she has also helped him understand how to manage the legal aspects of food distribution and production. When Tony received his first big contract and needed to scale his operations, Anni was there to assist him with hiring employees, changing his brand image, negotiating with distributors, developing pitches for selling his product, and more.
Tony has also worked with SBDC Advisor, John DeGaetano, whose expertise not only helped him secure a loan to expand his business but also receive pandemic-related funds.
As Tony expanded, he found a commercial kitchen in Petaluma where he is also the manager of the space, providing opportunities for other food businesses to grow. During the pandemic, the businesses in his commercial kitchen worked together and supported each other. Tony’s dream is to build a recognizable better-for-you food brand that stands out for both its quality and authenticity.
True Delicious was able to grow four times in 2020 even through the pandemic. The Marin SBDC helped Tony get his business started which resulted in:
- Significant sales growth since starting
- Products available in 250 stores across five states as well as selling across the U.S. via online
- Launch of e-commerce store
- Five full-time employees and two part-time employees
- Ability to provide benefits to employees
- Health insurance, PTO, holidays/sick leave, free food, comfortable breakroom, free lunch every Thursday, paid overtime, yearly raises
- Receiving a $37,000 loan from Redwood Credit Union (pre-pandemic)
- Receiving $5,884 PPP1 loan from Redwood Credit Union
- Receiving a $15,000 CA Grant
- Receiving a $35,000 grant from family
- Investing $25,000 into his business for purchasing equipment and managing the commercial kitchen space he currently leases.