If you didn’t know about Sapore Ravioli & Cheese, listen up. Until now, its out-of-the-way location in Middlesex, New Jersey, and modest advertising has kept only the locals in the know.
Even recommendations might be tough to come by, as fans may fear their favorite food joint will get too popular, and they’ll be waiting in longer lines. Unfortunately for those individuals, the word is out…
The Real Deal
“Everything is homemade the old fashioned way — hundreds of different types of pasta, stuffed ravioli, and sauces — all top quality,” said owner Domenick Discenza. “We buy the best of the best ingredients. People wait a long time to eat our products. We make cookies, sausages, roasted peppers. And we don’t have a deep fryer. We value our customers, treat them like family, and work with integrity. Once you taste it, oh my goodness, it’s the real deal.”
No, that wasn’t a thought-out sales pitch nor was it ad copy. That was Domenick’s response to “What is Sapore Ravioli?”
Domenick came up from making pasta by hand in Italy with his grandmother, to doing the same thing in a New York City restaurant. At 22 years old, he bought that restaurant. Twenty years later he sold it and moved to New Jersey. In 1997, Sapore Ravioli was born.
“Growing up, we cooked and didn’t buy anything. [I opened Sapore] to keep the family legacy,” said Domenick. “We’ll never deviate from quality and service.”
Oh, and Grandma? At 89 years young, she still comes to work when it’s time to make meatballs: fresh-chopped beef, golden eggs, breadcrumbs from the extra Italian bread, and fresh-grated Romano cheese.
Pasta, Sandwiches, and More
First and foremost, Sapore makes homemade raviolis and other assorted pasta like cavatelli, gnocchi, tortellini, manicotti, and more. This is where Domenick began. Now, his son Michael has picked up the business during a time of transition.
“Right now, our sandwiches are actually most popular,” said Michael. “It’s what people want: Fresh-made mozzarella, hot chicken cutlets, and homemade vodka or marinara sauce. I’m always gonna say ravioli first though, because the deli is a byproduct of being a fresh ravioli and pasta company. That got us where we are today.”
Anything one can imagine in an old-school Italian’s home kitchen is pretty much what customers can expect to find at Sapore Ravioli. Let your mind run wild, and try not to salivate too much.
“We make sauce in the summer,” said Domenick, “Like my grandmother used to make, 75 bushels of sauce. And we can it all summer.”
Sapore Ravioli has a large industrial kitchen where the cooks make sauce just like Grandma used to (and still does) make, gallon after gallon. Cans of sauce are available for purchase, alongside fresh pasta, and other packaged goods like roasted peppers. Right next door, customers flock to the deli counter to order hearty, comforting, and smack-your-lips-delicious sandwiches. One of the most popular sandwiches is called the Not So Chicken Little: chicken cutlet, homemade fresh mozzarella, homemade roasted red peppers, and balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
For dessert, Sapore offers homemade Italian cookies.
Location, Location, Location
Originally, the location was just meant for wholesale. After the community took to Sapore and business boomed, the family bought a building next door to expand operations and offer more parking.
“We’re off 287, Exit 8, in Middlesex, but people moreso know this as Piscataway because they think of Middlesex the county,” said Michael. “If you come here, there’s no shopping centers, we’re not near anything.”
Despite Sapore’s remote location, the business has had instances of needing police officers to direct traffic during one Christmas-season food frenzy. It’s common to see 50 to 60 people waiting in line, according to Domenick. Luckily for the family, as well as their customers, Sapore products are now turning up in new locations around NJ.
“We’re available in select ShopRite locations—mostly North Jersey, Morris County and Flemington, Clinton, and Middlesex.”
Smaller vendors like Sickles Market in southern Jersey communities like Red Bank also stock Sapore.
Watching the Business Grow
Demand continues to rise. Michael is setting his sights on expanding access to Sapore’s products, whether it be dining in, wholesale, or through catering.
“We’re in the midst of changing the website so you can put your ZIP code in and find where our products are,” said Michael who also alluded to his hope for online ordering in the future.
Michael, an alumnus of the Culinary Education Center in Asbury Park, NJ, takes pride in the hands-on, attentive, and quality approach that defines Sapore. Mass production and great profit margins are not synonymous with delicious, handmade, whole foods.
In fact, most products that are made quickly in large quantities are often filled with preservatives and cheap, fake, unhealthy ingredients. Sapore’s approach seems like the antithesis of mass production —everything from the quality process and the ingredients to the intense customer care.
“We still have that personable feel when you come — no corporate feel,” shared Michael. “We haven’t lost our roots. It’s better to keep what we’ve got. We take pride in taking our time. The food is more important than efficiency. Customers appreciate it because it’s exactly the way we serve food at our table on Sunday — like people coming over for dinner.
Process Is Key
Michael, Domenick, Grandma, the employees, and even the next generation of ravioli and meatball makers are still at Sapore day in and day out, ensuring quality control. It’s clear that every step in the process is important to them: How they do it, why they do it, what goes into it, who does it, and of course, a customer’s happiness with a great-tasting result.
“This is what we did since we were kids,” said Michael. “I wanted to continue the business, and never anticipated the overwhelming support. We’re very grateful for the people who come in. We want to do the right thing. We just intended for our family to make a living, and now can’t believe where it is today.”
After the interview with Domenick and Michael was over, the two were still just stoked they got to talk about their hard work and passion for quality Italian food. Minutes after the conversation ended, the phone buzzed. It was a video featuring three generations of meatball makers: Grandma, Domenick, and a young smiling lad turning on the meatball mixer for the video camera. Take me to Sapore!
Sapore Ravioli & Cheese
429B Lincoln Blvd.