Ready for a heart-warming-feel-good story in the middle of a deep recession? We sure were. When Robin emailed an introduction to her family business, Ooma Tesoro’s, we were awed by her and her husband’s resourcefulness and entrepreneurial spirit when the economy hit their family hard. Then we tasted her sauce in various incarnations over the course of three days, and we fell head-over-heels in love. We recently interviewed Robin and we’re pretty sure you’ll be as moved by her story as we are.
How did you get started on making Ooma Tesoro’s Marinara Sauce?
My husband and I found ourselves without jobs in ’08. I worked as style editor for a magazine called Wondertime, and before that I worked as a prop stylist for Martha Stewart.
Michael worked in many different fields, from politics to internet start-ups to developing new business for large media companies.
We had to feed our children somehow, so when we could not find any other work, we started making batches of Michael’s grandmother’s recipe for marinara sauce. We took the jarred batches to farmers’ markets with labels that we tied on the jars. We gave samples and sold out fast! We did it again and the same thing happened. We were encouraged to move operation “Make Sauce” to a bigger kitchen and jump through the hoops of getting an all-natural shelf stable jar of yummy sauce to the marketplace. We launched in November ’09. Jump 2 years forward…and today, we are on the shelves at over 200 fine food stores in New England and sell direct from our website. Our sauce is a favorite amongst the 10 and under crowd as well as the 10 and older crowd, because it is incredibly smooth and flavorful and not chunky which is one of the reasons why kids love it.
What’s the hardest part about running your own family business?
The hardest part is that we are in charge of everything, responsible for everything and must wear every hat. When we need more packaging supplies, we are responsible for ordering them and paying for them. It is hard to turn work off. Michael and I are constantly talking about ideas and aspects of our business in front of our children. They hear so much. I always wonder how they absorb it all. Our daughter plays shopkeeper a lot. The other day she told me that she had in stock the item that I ordered online. She certainly gets thrilled about creating a lemonade stand in the summer or selling eggs to our neighbors (we have 25 chickens) and she loves coming to farmers’ markets with us to sell her art work.
Do you work from home, and if so, do you ever stop working?
I do work from home. My desk is in our kitchen. Michael’s is in our bedroom. So it does feel like I am able to “work” all day long but that is not necessarily a good thing. I am constantly evolving the way I prioritize my time. If I had an “office” even if tucked away in another room I would would probably separate work from family time better, but my desk is built into the cabinetry and it was this way when we moved here. It allows to get some work done while being in the midst of everyone. I cannot decide if it is good or not. But to answer your question. I do step away and focus on our children after school and into the evening until the kids go to bed.
What’s your weeknight family dinner routine?
Week night dinners usually consist of pasta or rice, either Bell & Evans chicken nuggets or Coleman’s hot dogs, or some other protein (that I can get the kids to eat) and always vegetables and fruit. We make pizzas or sometimes pick up a pizza. Linguine with Ooma Tesoro’s is usually popular—thank goodness we always have that in the pantry. I try to introduce new foods but my kids usually go for the same old thing. (*See some of Robin’s recipes at the bottom of the post.)
What’s the easiest dinner in your repertoire/or rather–whoever is cooking in the kitchen?
Michael and I both cook. He is traveling a lot but when he is home we try to do family dinners. That means helping to make the meal. Meatballs and spaghetti is something that everybody likes. Or making the dough for pizza with the kids is always fun.
Salad is always in my repertoire: Romaine or green leaf lettuce, toasted walnuts or pine nuts, peeled cucumber slices, thinly sliced red onion, feta, goat or gorgonzola cheese crumbles, tomatoes, avocado. With my salad dressing recipe that may be a new product so it’s a secret!
How do you celebrate your kids’ birthdays? Do you do goody bags, and if so, what do you put in them?
Both Francesca and Nicholas have birthdays during the summer so we have been lucky enough to always have it outside. Since her 4th birthday, Francesca has a theme in mind. Mermaids for 4th , then fairies for 5th and her 6th birthday she wanted “A Dog Party” so we got ears and noses and asked people to bring their dogs and we had a dog show. She loved it. I like giving gift bags with something fun for the ride home and it helps the transition to the car and where we live it’s usually at least a 20 minute drive home. Most years I have made a music mix CD. We keep our parties pretty small so it’s less overwhelming. I think there is a rule: the age of the child is how many friends they should have, that rule works well with our kids.
Any rules about TV/iPad, iPod, etc?
I am not very strict. I allow TV because it relaxes my children. We do not allow before school and I try to keep it off for as long as possible in the afternoons and maintain consistency but sometimes they need it and so do I. We enjoy watching funny movies as a family in front of the fire. I am all for the iPod for music in the dock and love when we have dance parties. I think it’s great that Francesca can understand how to use it. I try to keep my iPhone and computer to myself and tell them they are my toys. But the iPhone definitely comes in handy when on long car trips or at a restaurant. It still is totally absurd to me when my 3 year son comes over to me and asks if he can play a game on my iPhone. Don’t have an iPad…yet.
What websites inspire you and for which parts of your life?
Plate to Plate for local food ideas and beautiful pictures, and Cannelle et Vanille. I love the Purl Bee for fabric ideas and color inspiration from the beautiful yarns even though I do not knit. For fashion right now I am loving EmersonMade.
What’s a typical weekend like?
Weekends are tricky in our house. Michael does demos at stores on most Saturdays. It is the busiest and best day to do them. I try to plan some kind of outing with the kids to an apple orchard in the fall, museums, there is so much to do in the Berkshires. We visit with friends and we travel to see family. We try to have one family day a week when we can just relax at the house and get projects done and just be a family. Our family never feels quite right with one of us absent.
What’s the thing that always stays on your to-do list and never gets crossed off and nags at you?
Editing my iPhoto library and making photo albums. Our wedding album is still unfinished!
Top 3 favorite books—for your kids, top 3 for yourself? Last book you read?
Do you have a fail-safe beauty product or routine?
Not always fail-safe but I do my best. I never go to bed without washing my face. I use Alba products for cleansing and moisturizing my face. They are relatively inexpensive and they are a good clean line of products with SPF and easy to find. I rub castor oil into my face at least once a week before bed. My very good friend’s late mother said that after conditioning your hair, if you rinse with the coldest water you can stand, your hair will look its best. I try to do it when I am going out and always think of her when I brave the cold water.
Best family trip?
We have not had the chance to really plan a trip as a family alone yet but every summer we get to Buzzards Bay, MA with extended family and one of the islands off the Cape with extended family. Beach time and ocean waves feel like vacation to me. Even if we only get a few days of it. I love how the kids thrive outdoors all day and fall asleep exhausted from all the energy they have used up outdoors. I look forward to traveling with them as they grow older but for now staying close to home is what we need.
Any personal/parenting “a-ha” tips?
Rotating toys. Putting stuff away and then taking it out again months later is like going to a toy store for my kids. Getting rid of stuff, bringing bags to Salvation Army, Goodwill, consignment shops, giving bags of hand-me-downs to friends. Simplifies life.
You feel your best when…?
When I go to bed before 10pm and when I am routinely exercising: running, walking or yoga. I feel best in the morning between 7-11AM. My mind is clearest and I have the most energy.
Proudest moment in parenting?
It is as simple as listening to my kids sing together or Francesca singing a lullaby to Nicholas.
Recently Francesca helped me clear out our loft which is like an attic but has a built in ladder and reminds me of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s house. When it was finally cleared of old clothes and junk and we were hanging out up there enjoying the space, we found my sewing machine and bin of fabric. We took it out and made her brother a duvet cover for his tiny comforter. We were listening to music and she was helping me sew and she said to me. “This is what I dreamed of doing and all my dreams are coming true.” I had envisioned the same thing and we had such a great moment together and it will always stay with me.
Anything peanut butter and chocolate together. Wine. A nap.
Best parenting advice you ever got?
When I had my first newborn I was told to sleep when she napped, and although the laundry did not get done when I did that, at least I had some sanity. These days the best advice I have gotten is to try to allow my kids to resolve their own disputes. It’s really hard to not referee when siblings fight. But I was told that if you always get engaged they will continue to need you to resolve for them. Each situation is different but I tell them that I have confidence that they can work it out and a lot of the time they do.
*There are so many ways to use Ooma Tesoro’s Marinara Sauce, from quick simple pasta and Ooma’s, to using it to speed up the making of your lasagna by not having the make-the-sauce step. I make the following recipe a lot when I want something healthy and light, but extremely satisfiying.
Ooma Tesoro’s with Swiss Chard & Mushrooms over Quinoa:
Rinse and chopped swiss chard bunch (any color will do) into strips leaving stem but remove the large bottom stem portion.
Chop 1 medium onion into small pieces.
1 garlic clove minced.
1 cup of Cremini mushrooms cleaned, stemmed and sliced.
Chicken stock (can substitute vegetable stock)
In a large saute pan, use a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, and cook onions until clear and browned a little on med-high heat using wooden spoon to stir. Add a little chicken stock and minced garlic, so as not to burn. Then add mushrooms and add a little more chicken stock. Cook mushrooms for about 5 minutes—until mushrooms are a little browned and soft. Then add Swiss chard and add more chicken stock and some water—still on high heat—allowing liquid to cook down until Swiss chard is soft. Then add 1 cup of Ooma Tesoro’s, cook Swiss chard and mushrooms a little more, and then serve over warm quinoa. I love this served with broiled cod, but it is great on it own too.
Whenever I make this Fig Crostini for friends and family I get requests for the recipe…so here it is, we’ll call it, Ooma’s Fig Crostini.
Cut a fresh baguette in 1” slices and lay on baking sheet. Top with 1 tsp fig jam, 1 thin slice of dried fig, 1 tsp of soft goat cheese and pinch of fresh rosemary chopped, a drop of extra virgin olive oil and pinch of salt & pepper. Put under broiler on high for @ 1 minute….until it is bubbly. let cool for a few minutes and serve.