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Ma Ma Rella’s Fine Foods: Homemade Sauce in a Jar

Ma Ma Rella’s Fine Foods: Homemade Sauce in a Jar

What’s the difference between a food lover and a foodpreneur?

Bernadette Rella knew the answer. A Food Network fanatic, the former stay-at-home mom would practice family recipes for her three kids and friends.

They loved them.

In 2007, Rella founded Ma Ma Rella’s Fine Foods, located at 4878 Clinton Rd in Whitesboro, N.Y. She stepped out as a foodpreneur.

Rella chose marinara from her Italian heritage as the signature sauce of Ma Ma Rella’s Fine Foods.

“People said, ‘Oh my God, this is so close to homemade,’ and I replied, ‘Because this is basically what it is,'” Rella said. “I really do believe that I worked hard on this for eight years. [It’s] as close to being homemade as possible. Without having gluten, high sodium and high calories, people are gonna say this is healthier.”

As the owner of Ma Ma Rella’s Fine Foods, Rella has confidence in her sauces. But she knows running a business is more than possessing perfect products. You have to learn to be a multi-tasker.

“I do it all by myself. I buy the ingredients; I order the bottles; I learn about production management and marketing; I created website on GoDaddy; I do financial pieces with my accountant,” she said.

Ma Ma Rella's Fine Foods_sauce

The owner of Ma Ma Rella’s Fine Foods, Bernadette Rella, with her mother, Janice Rocco, at South Side Innovation Center’s first Holiday Market.

Janice Rocco, Rella’s mother, traveled with her daughter to various farmers’ markets and handcraft shows to share Rella’s brand throughout Central New York.

“All my life, I did the penny saver and got the receipts. I always wanted to make my own, but I never did. So she is doing something I always wanted to do. It’s exciting for me to see, and I support her as much as I can,” Rocco said.

To start, Rella studied business administration, management and operations in Martin J. Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University in 2011. She then earned two degrees in human services and chemical dependency at Mohawk Valley Community College in 2014. She also reached out to the business incubators in Syracuse including Wise Women’s Business Center and South Side Innovation Center.

El-Java Williams Abdul-Qadir, the director of South Side Innovation center, remembered the day Rella came to the center with the belief of “I have the best sauce.”

But what made Rella different from other clients was her drive to make business happen.

“I never saw her give up. Bernadette accomplished a lot with a little bit of resources. When obstacles [were] in front [of her], she found a way around it, over it, through it. That’s what it takes to be successful at entrepreneurship,” Abdul-Qadir said.

In Whitman School, Rella has finished a 80-page business plan, which “basically includes everything,” she said.

“Without looking at it , I just remember. My first product is Italian marinara sauce, my second is riggie sauce […] Usually, you don’t follow your business plan, but I kind of just follow it. Until you become bigger, you have to go with what you are able to produce,” Rella said.

Following the plan, she started the business on the right track. Her new riggie sauce came out in October, which is a spicy cream sauce that has a kick to it. This family recipe is made from chicken broth, green bell and cherry peppers, mushrooms, onions and other fresh ingredients.

“You just add your pasta with your choice of meat chicken, shrimp, steak or sausage,” Rella said. “And I came to realize a lot of people don’t know what riggie sauce is. It’s just a little weird to me.” Making sure buyers know the riggie sauce is available at local stores is one of her goals.

Now, Rella is considering expanding the scale of manufacturing. The next step for Ma Ma Rella’s Fine Food is to sell at Price Chopper in the future.

Ma Ma Rella’s Fine Foods

Ma Ma Rella’s Fine Foods: Homemade Sauce From Kitchen to kitchen

Looking back, she recalled the first jar sold at Green Planet Grocery, a specialty store.

“They are great. I was a nervous wreck when I pitched,” Rella smiled. “But you also remembered the person that gave you hard time, too. To me, there is always ‘no’ and ‘yes’ that keeps me moving forward. So if somebody says ‘no’ to me, there is always ‘yes’ somewhere else.”

Rella plans to eventually sell Ma Ma Rella’s Fine Foods as a national product.

“It seems to be larger than what it was. In my mind, I try to make it very big, but it’s very small,” Rella said. “Yet, it’s growing.”

About The Author

Yufei Wu

Master of Arts in Magazine, Newspaper & Online Journalism


This site celebrates the people places, and culture that make Central New York one of the most vibrant and livable regions in the country. From Auburn to Utica, from Syracuse, to Ithaca, this is LivableCNY.

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