The “Cleve Meats” sign still adorns Carfagna’s as a reminder of this Columbus food empire’s humble beginnings on Cleveland Avenue.
Owners Sam and Dino Carfagna, along with their bookkeeping sister, Julie Riley, trace the history of Carfagna’s specialty foods, Carfagna’s Kitchen restaurant, and the Carfagna’s soup and pasta sauce manufacturing facility back to their grandfather Sam Carfagna’s meat shop on Cleveland Avenue, aptly named Cleve Meats.
From those roots, Carfagna’s grew to employ 100 people across three businesses.
“My grandfather Sam emigrated here from Italy in 1920 and worked various jobs before learning this trade in the downtown Columbus packing houses,” namesake grandson, Sam, said. “He opened his first market in 1937 on Cleveland near Hudson with a house on top of it where we were all born.”
In the late 1960s, the current owner’s father, Eddie, and their uncle, Adam, took over the market, moving it to its current location at 1405 E. Dublin-Granville Road.
“Dino and I came into the business shortly after dad took over,” Sam Carfagna said. “We started working at a very early age, before we were 10 even, stocking shelves through middle school and cutting meat through high school, learning the trade.
“The work is so demanding that sometimes it was the best way to see dad, and it’s the same for us now.”
Sam and Dino bought the business from their father in 1994 and opened a manufacturing facility to mass produce the family’s pasta sauce and soups, as well as other Italian specialties, available in grocery stores and specialty food shops throughout Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
“The plant opened in 1994 and has been a real winner for us,” Sam Carfagna said. “We offer our pasta sauces and other specialties through retail grocery outlets and then also provide bulk products to the food service industry.
“That business is growing rapidly and we’re in the process of moving into a larger facility near the market, which we hope to have completed this month,” he said.
The family opened Carfagna’s Kitchen in 2007 as a “fast casual” restaurant at 2025 Polaris Parkway.
“There’s no secret that a majority of food growth is in the restaurant sector. Many people eat out more than they eat in,” Sam said. “We felt with our catering and distribution experience, we could put out homemade Italian food for tremendous value ourselves, so we opened the restaurant to feed busy families on a budget.”
He said the family’s business success is tied directly to hard work.
“This is very labor-intensive and we have to work when everyone else is partying, on weekends and holidays,” he said. “We need to be here for our customers; we value them and they value that type of service.
“My father always said every day will be a challenge, but owning your own business will have plenty of rewards,” he added. “It’s helped raise all of our 11 kids and put a lot of kids through college, both ours and our employees’.”
Sam said his grandfather taught him about listening closely to what a customer wants and then giving them a product and service with superior quality and integrity.
“I’m standing here behind everything we do, and there is no one else to answer to what we do but ourselves,” Sam said. “Everything we do here is fresh and we provide every customer with a personal touch.”
As for the future of Carfagna’s, Sam said he’d like to open more restaurants and expand the food manufacturing.
“It’s nice to see how proud my children are of our family’s accomplishments and that we’ve been able to be a big part of the community,” he said. “We have a large family and the number one greatest attribute ofour kids is that they’re smart, educated and professional. When any of them are ready to take on the task of this business challenge, they know they are welcome.”