A SOUTHERN TIER CULINARY STAPLE
When you think of Italian food in Broome County, countless restaurant names come to mind. One Italian restaurant that’s been a fixture in the community for over 70 years is Little Venice.
Since its founding in 1946, Little Venice Restaurant has been making and selling its one-of-a-kind homemade tomato sauce, as well as its delicious homemade pastas.
Though the thoughtful cooks behind the sauce have varied since inception, Little Venice has “had the same sauce recipe for 72 years,” according to owner Piero Lisio.
Fitting for this family-style restaurant, Little Venice is a family-owned business under Piero Lisio, his sister Gina Minichino and their father Romeo Lisio’s management, with 70 employees total.
The Lisio’s legacy on Little Venice, as well as Broome County, began when Piero’s father Romeo immigrated to the area.
“While I was born and raised in Binghamton, my father was born in Italy. The only place he’s ever lived in the United States is Binghamton. He moved here in 1974 to work for the restaurant,” Lisio began.
“My mom was born in Binghamton, grew up outside of Scranton and then moved back to Binghamton. Both of my parents settled in the area because of family here – that’s how we ended up [in Broome County and working at Little Venice],” he went on.
The Lisio family has been with Little Venice Restaurant through various hardships and changes as the business evolved, such as sustaining business during “downtown’s population shrinking 10-15 years ago,” remodeling projects to expand the restaurant’s space, launching the Little Venice online shop and most significantly, bottling and selling their sauce online and in grocery stores, which began in 2014.
In just 4 short years, retail sales of Little Venice’s sauce have exploded in the Northeast. Their sauce is currently sold in 185 stores – with that number edging towards 200 with each passing month.
“Locally, [of the major chains] Wegmans carries it, as well as the Weis Markets and Price Chopper. Price Chopper carries it throughout their entire chain actually – all 128 stores in Pennsylvania, Vermont and Massachusetts, as well as New York. We’re also in Gerrity’s in Pennsylvania and 45 independent stores from Syracuse down to Scranton, as well as various other stores,” Lisio said.
This year alone, Lisio anticipates selling upwards of 100,000 jars of Little Venice’s famous homemade tomato sauce – with each jar being traced back to their restaurant kitchen on Chenango Street.
What sets Little Venice’s product apart from other brands’ or restaurants’ sauce? According to Lisio, it’s all about the Little Venice process.
“We use a very traditional method – even in our jarred sauce. We’re starting with a base and making it with small batches, which is just not true of the bigger brands so I think it makes our product unique,” he said.
That delicious taste, in addition to Little V’s easily recognized brand, have both contributed to their jarred sauce’s retail success in Broome County and beyond, outselling national sauce brands in the Weis Markets and being the number one sauce sold in the Johnson City Wegmans.
The Little Venice family never foresaw this level of success in the retail market though.
“We thought we had a product that would sell reasonably well. We thought we could get it into some stores, but to be – in some of these grocery stores – their number one selling sauce on the shelf was something we didn’t anticipate and that’s been really fantastic,” Lisio said.
To Lisio, a major component of Little Venice’s success has been the local support from loyal restaurant-goers in the place it all started, as well as our area’s strategic location.
“As we expand with the sauce, the availability of easy transportation is big as we start shipping it further and further – it’s easy to get to Binghamton. It’s easy to get products here as well,” he said.
As far as what’s ahead for Little Venice, they plan to stay focused on continuously expanding in the retail market with additional products and product lines, and getting those products into more grocery stores.
“Right now, we’re working with Wegmans to try and get in more of their stores, as well as with a few chains down in the Hudson Valley. We want to move the product to more of a regional presence – that’s where our focus is right now and where we’re headed.”
You can find Little Venice’s sauce locally at their restaurant, Wegmans, Weis Markets and Price Chopper and independent stores, such as Tom’s Coffee, Cards & Gifts, Butcher Boy, Mirabito Convenience Stores, Down to Earth Foods and more, as well as on the Little V website.