The HVADC Cultivator
FFFA Peer Spotlight:
Screamin’ Onionz, from Aha! American Healthy Appetite, is the spicy brainchild of founder Richard Romano. Romano is a current HVADC’s Farm and Food Funding Accelerator (FFFA) Peer and is coming out of the gates ready to expand the business in exciting new ways, undeterred by economic hurdles posed by The COVID-19 shutdown.
The brand was started during a time of great adversity for Richard and wife Alicia Romano. A former chef and restaurant startup professional in New York City, in 2015, Richard lost his job. Shortly thereafter Alicia gave birth to their son at just 27 weeks and 1 pound, 14 ounces. In the insuring months, while their baby remained in the hospital, Richard looked for a new way to support the family. He rented a stove in the back of a Millbrook pizzeria and began mass-producing the signature onion dish he was famous for bringing to gatherings of family and friends. The experience also gave the Romano’s a deep and lasting respect for the difficult work done by NICU nurses and staff. A major goal of Aha! is to give back philanthropically to support the work of NICUs.
“I was sick of opening other people’s restaurants and giving them their dreams and not grabbing our own,” said Romano.
Jars of Screamin’ Onionz are filled with slow cooked onions in sauces of varying spice levels. With its all-natural, healthy ingredients sourced from regional farms, Screamin’ Onionz are a show stopping BBQ condiment but also much much more.
Screamin’ Onionz is becoming a regular sight at farm stands and major retailors like Adams, Tops and even Wholefoods, not just because it’s the perfect hotdog topper but also because it’s a recipe starter and base for all kinds of dishes. Romano says he’s constantly surprised when hosting sample tastings, how people of diverse backgrounds tell him Screamin’ Onions reminds them of a flavor used in their culinary heritage.
The relatable flavor of slow cooked onions may be universal but Screamin’ Onionz has created something special. They take the time to cook down the New York onions just right and marry them with a vinegary sauce of peppers, garlic and … more onions. The flavor is surprisingly light and tastes bright and fresh with just the right amount of heat. Three varieties are available: Mild, Medium and Hot.
The product speaks for itself but Romano’s enthusiasm for his Onionz and vision for the expansion of his brand into schools, institutions and public venues made him an ideal candidate for the HVADC FFFA program.
“We were attracted to HVADC because they’re really connected to the farms,” Romano said. “And if we were going to go to anyone for investment we wanted to go to people who clearly cared about us.”
The FFFA is an intensive mentoring and training program for Hudson Valley farmers and food entrepreneurs seeking to scale their business, gain access to capital, and build sales. Over the course of six to eight months, participants engage in a series of one-on-one mentoring sessions, group interactions and industry networking events to learn how to talk to investors, discover new market opportunities, and pitch to potential funders.
“HVADC was the biggest home run for us,” Romano said. “We went to them because we knew they could help us build a bridge to get the product where we need it to go. One thing that kept me going when I was starting restaurants was passing on the philosophy that every guest needs to feel cared for. I feel that with HVADC. We feel cared for. We feel that they want us to succeed.”
Romano says the FFFA process was invaluable and opened the necessary doors to begin talking to public schools. Screamin’ Onionz is already in the pantry of the Hotchkiss School, Millbrook School and Vassar Collage but becoming a supplier to public schools will take the brand to a new level and provide students with a healthy farm-fresh flavor bomb in their cafeterias.
“We knew that HVADC is big on ‘Farm to School.’ It’s a great cause and good for our business too,” Romano said. “Public Schools love us because they see it as saving time and labor while adding flavor. Also after we provide product to more institutions we’ll be in a better position to talk to arenas and stadiums.”
Romano was about to begin providing cases to the Wappingers Central School District in March when the COVID-19 pandemic stymied his expansion. But his enthusiastic entrepreneurial spirit and experience in persevering through difficult situations is keeping him optimistic as the shutdown rolls on. With tools acquired in the FFFA, Romano is using this time to build. He is working with consultants to improve the company’s online and social media presence and looking to eventually hire new staff to handle increased sales and in-person demos.
“As a business we need to be a regional favorite and have an online store. It’s all about getting people that first taste. Then they wont forget us,” Romano said. “We want to inspire people to think about what they want to do with their time and to make something they love.”
To learn more about the FFFA program, visit https://www.hvadc.org/farm-food-funding-accelerator.
Photo/logo Source: Screamin' Onlonz