The Origin of "Mama Tommy"

It was 1981 in NYC. Once a week I held cooking classes at my good friend Chris’ apartment for Chris and 3 of her friends who wanted to learn to cook some dishes. The class paid for the food and the wine. I had nothing to lose. I would plan the meal, shop for the ingredients, wrote down the recipes for each of the students and sipped on wine while I instructed the group. One night, one of the girls mentioned that her “mama” never taught her to cook like this. Chris reacted to the comment by pointing at me and jokingly called me “mama”. With that, my students nicknamed me “Mama Tommy”.

During one of the following classes, garlic butter was one of the recipes to be learned. Everyone loved it. Chris suggested that I produce and sell it. The class agreed. I told her that I did not know where to begin. She replied neither do I, but I will help.

Chris and I shook hands and became partners. She said let’s call it Mama Tommy’s. I said okay. Shortly after, I took a leave of absence from my job so I could put my energy into this full time.

I went to work on perfecting large batches of 10 lbs and 20 lbs of butter. Wow, that’s a lot of garlic to peel! My brother, Michael, designed the logo and label. I used a 4 oz. clear plastic container to package the product in. I hand-cut labels and glued the tri-fold label to the lid. It included 3 recipes and some other ideas for the use. It is not just for garlic bread.

Here I was, carrying an ice chest full of samples of my garlic butter to various shops trying to obtain purchase orders. After 6 months the butter was proudly showcased in refrigerator cases in such stores as Balducci’s, Zabars, The Ideal Cheese Shop, Schaller & Weber as well as 8 other specialty stores in the city.
   "Mama Tommy" and Chris in front of Balducci's

 Chris, "Mama Tommy" and Balducci manager.

We also had a booth at the Lexington Avenue street fair that year. We served grilled sliced steamship round of beef in a garlic bread sandwich. We sold some tee shirts and aprons too. It seemed like this was starting to take off. I had some other flavored butters in mind so to expand our product line. Of course, making the butter at home and delivering it would not work if we grew. I tried contacting some large dairy companies to see if they had any interest but I had no luck getting past the receptionist. Looking back, maybe I should have given that task to someone who knew how to get inside a large company.

Once, we dropped off a sample at Bloomingdale’s. When we followed up we were told we were rejected. Funny thing - 6 months later they came out with their own brand of garlic butter.

When the family first discussed putting together this food blog we were searching for a name. Zack suggested Mama Tommy’s. It was voted in. As you can see the logo was redesigned and a new era begins. My wife, my brother, my sister- -in law and my 3 incredible nephews are united in this fun project. What a great way to keep up with one another.

"Mama Tommy" today in our Florida backyard.
 (holding a tray of homegrown tomatoes, basil and rosemary - basic Italian family staples!)

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