Gustiamo, 25 Years of Italy’s Best Foods in New York

This article was originally written in Italian by Greta Contardo and published by Cook Inc Mag. Read the original here. Translation by yours truly, the multilingual Gusti Team. Greta, grazie infinite for knowing us even better than we know ourselves. Your story on the (first) 25 years of life of Gustiamo reads like a fairytale and moved us deeply.

Bronx, 1999. Beatrice Ughi is changing her life but perhaps doesn’t know it yet. At the end of the 90s, the “Guerrigliera del Gusto e del Giusto” or Good Food Warrior (as she describes herself on her Instagram page) was an account manager working for an international accounting firm. Almost by accident, but perhaps by coincidence, she leaped into the dark and ended up in a warehouse in the Bronx. There, an Italian start-up had called her to join their food import company. But within a short year, the business was left to Beatrice, at the very dawn of the Internet Age. With great courage, she seized the opportunity and decided to start this venture. That same year, she had started building relationships with the small group of Italian producers that were part of the project and something special happened: she fell in love with food and, above all, with all those honest, sincere producers. In that very moment, Gustiamo was born.

beatrice ughi in gustiamo van

The warehouse is still there: 1715 West Farms Road, between 173rd and 174th Street. It is bigger than it used to be – over the years Gustiamo expanded and added the space next door. At the warehouse, the Bronx graffiti community did an amazing job decorating the walls with some appropriately-themed art: Only REAL Italian Food beyond this point! reads the front gate. Not a threat, but rather an invitation: Italy’s best food in New York City is all behind this colorful door. Around it there are tons of distinctive and pop Italian symbols and producers’ names painted all over the place.

Gustiamo’s mission is to improve the quality of Italian food in the US by selling the best products through an online retail program. In the early days of e-commerce Gustiamo was already taking the first steps in a market that most people didn’t even know existed. A true precursor of e-commerce, Gustiamo was born way before Amazon came into our lives. Independent and exclusive importer of Italian food since the beginning, Gustiamo reaches each and every state of the US… and Canada, too! In addition to their e-commerce, Gustiamo today runs a very successful wholesale program, selling to restaurants and stores all over the country.

The relationship between producer and consumer is very straightforward: no middlemen involved. Even the Food and Drug Administration paperwork is managed exclusively by the Gustiamo team. But the import process is just the tip of the iceberg. Gustiamo’s biggest achievement is the promotion and safeguarding of authentic, artisanal Italian food products. “It is not just about selling vinegar,” says Beatrice during an interview for the Italian Consulate in New York City, “we’re trying to do our best to help and support our beautiful country, il Belpaese.” 

gustiamo bronx warehouse entrance

Beatrice is unstoppable. Enthusiastic, energetic, focused, and passionate, she never gives up. She believes in the great value of what she promotes. She builds strong relationships with her farmers and food makers based on trust, akin to a family connection. The same thing happens with customers: every year the closest ones are invited, along with some journalists, to harvest olives with one of the extra virgin olive oil producers she trusts the most. “We are not just importers,” the GustiTeam explains, “we always say that we represent the producers on the other side of the ocean. We are the ones that exclusively import these foods: our producers totally trust our business choices and the way we share our knowledge of their products and stories”.

Corrado Assenza, pastry maestro of Caffé Sicilia in Noto, Luigi Manias, mind and soul of Mieli Manias in Sardegna, Francesco and Pia Travaglini, EVOO experts at Parco dei Buoi in Molise, Lorenzo Piccione of Pianogrillo farm in Sicilia, Sabatino Abagnale, head of Terra Slow in Campania, the Martelli family from Pastificio Martelli in Toscana, Giulio Giordano, anchovy guru at Nettuno on the Amalfi Coast, the Pinna brothers in Sardinia, and the Bonomo and Giglio crew of La Nicchia Pantelleria are some of the very first producers who believed in this brave project/mission. Twenty-five years later, the group of food makers counts about 40 Italian small companies (for a total of more than 300 products), all of them fighting the good food battle side by side with Gustiamo. They told us about it in this Letter from the other side – the enemy is the dispiriting Italian Sounding phenomenon that makes the American market the wild west of fake products (not always, but too often.)

Don’t take this the wrong way: Gustiamo is not against the Italian American culinary expression, but instead lies and fraudulent businesses. That’s Italian Sounding, the huge market value of foreign foods that dishonestly take advantage of Italian symbols and names, to the detriment of legit Italian companies.

But Gustiamo fights and resists. Among their most remarkable crusades, there’s the defense of real San Marzano tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil, two of the most forged products in the United States. Gustiamo is fighting this battle since its inception, for 25 years, but it is one hundred percent worth it. It’s not just about selling food, it’s about narrating the terroir. It’s about defending agri and gastroculture. And it is about helping families that could economically collapse if their legacy was not defended. Gustiamo is a disruptive company, strongly committed to transparency, and willing to pay the right price for food. One can of San Marzano tomatoes and one bag-in-box of Tratturello EVOO at a time. 

gustiamo team at italian consulate

From a company based on authentic, almost familial ties, to being named a Cavaliere dell’Ordine della Stella d’Italia. Almost a year ago, on April 19th, 2023, the Italian Republic officially recognized President Beatrice Ughi’s contribution to the promotion of Italian excellence abroad. The honor recognizes people whose work promotes cooperation between Italy and other countries, enhancing the prestige of the Peninsula and its culture. And Beatrice is undoubtedly one of them, together with the support of her tireless team of 12 people (part of them coming from the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo).

Beatrice stands to say that “the real Knights are all the producers, the farmers, and the artisans who work to create the highest quality products with honesty and passion. This award goes to them.” To them also goes her gratitude: “I want to thank our producers, the farmers who take care of our land because they know that if I am receiving this, it is just because of them. They cannot be here today because they are fishing for mackerel, planting tomatoes, and pruning olive trees. These are the people who keep our country so beautiful, and we must continue to protect them.”

gustiamo team in van

Beatrice Ughi is a national treasure; she has introduced Americans to the taste of real Italian food, and all the stories behind it. On the company’s website, you’ll find an interesting section called Gustiamo in the Media which chronicles all the adventures of our Italian heroes. Take a look, you will find amusing stories, such as Obama with Tratturello EVOO at the White House or Stanley Tucci and Luigi Manias eating porceddu (Sardinian roasted pig) enriched with corbezzolo honey. You can also read very interesting pieces, for example Eater’s San Marzano tomato documentary featuring Gustarosso.

The Gustiamo team hangs out in Italy at least three or four times a year. Food scouting, olive harvesting, visiting producers, and, of course, attending TASTE in Florence: Pitti Immagine’s food and wine fair. TASTE’s selection is elite, exhibitors must meet strict, unwavering criteria to participate, and includes many producers that Gustiamo imports into the United States. Meeting them in person is not only important but crucial. This year, TASTE is going to be the big stage for Gustiamo’s 25th birthday, too. What an honor. So much passion, so much joy.  

gustiamo graffitti wall bronx

Go and find all these small Italian producers whose hearts beat in the United States too. Authenticity is key when it comes to their stories and tales: go meet them, talk to them, listen to them. For more information about Gustiamo and their producers, visit their website, you’ll feel right at home in New York City. And yes, Gustiamo is a great idea for gifts to friends and family in the USA.  They too, will feel at home, when they receive a gift from!