The restaurant business is tough. Few make it for more than a handful of years, and the ones that do often find themselves in a constant battle to stay relevant. Savvy entrepreneurs are increasingly looking to diversify their revenue streams by launching retail products. Not only does this give them an additional source of income, it tends to minimize the impact of the inevitable ups and downs of owning a restaurant. Such is the case with Vito Lafata III, and his craft marinara sauce brand, Mama’s Sugo.

Inspired by a traditional Sicilian marinara sauce recipe handed down to his mother, Vito, owner of longtime popular St. Louis eatery, Vito’s Sicilian Ristorante, saw a gap in the market for a fresh, flavorful marinara sauce, and sought to share his beloved family sugo with a broader audience.

Vito came to Upstart Food Brands with test batches of sauce, big ideas, and even bigger personality…but little else. We were tasked with crafting a meaningful brand, completely from scratch.

We began (as we do with every client) by sitting down with Vito and talking. We wanted to know everything about the sauce; what was in it, where the recipe came from, what inspired him to learn this difficult, time-consuming old-world craft, etc. From these conversations, we coaxed out nuggets of narrative that would soon become the brand story.

First though, we needed a name. We researched the market, looked for preliminary trademark conflicts, searched for domain names, and came up with a wide variety of viable brand names to consider. After sifting through them and debating their appropriateness for the brand, we landed on Mama’s Sugo.

With a name in place, the next step was to begin shaping the story.

Mama’s Sugo Brand Story

Every summer my mother would buy (more like haggle for!) the best case of tomatoes she could find. She would then cook them, showing us how to build flavor with spices, and while the flavor built, she’d show us who’s the boss with her wooden spoon—I swear that spoon could take corners! I loved helping her work hard in the kitchen, sharing her passion with our family on those special occasions. Now, I’m happy to share with you our family’s sugo (sauce), which took me countless batches, measurements, and pinches of this-a-and-a-that-a to master. Mama, I dedicate this jar to you, because you are LOVE!


From here, we began building out the initial visual aspects of the brand, which first meant creating an engaging, sophisticated logo that helped to tell the Mama’s Sugo story. To guide this work, a 25-page strategy document was created to establish primary and secondary target audience profiles/characteristics, brand personality and voice, clear features and benefits of the product, visual identity (color palette, font system, logo specifications, etc.), potential marketing channels for the product, and mood boards for defining image style.

The logo centers on this nostalgic idea of the wooden spoon. When Vito was a child, his mother was always in the kitchen cooking, and she wielded her spoon with love – both to prepare food for her family, and to instill discipline (he jokes that when Mama threw the spoon at you from across the room, it would turn corners to hit you!).

We landed on a bold red color, reminiscent of the sauce, with a looping, pasta-like customized typeface and some subtle dimension, with the tail of the “g” morphing into a hand holding a wooden spoon. The reverse version, against a red background displays the type in a clean white.


To design the packaging, we first needed to determine the package. After considering various sizes and substrates, we opted for a simple glass mason jar in an initial 32oz size. This was ideal for the process of jarring the sauce, and the clear package afforded us the ability to showcase the rich, chunky red texture of the sauce. As such, we decided to keep the design minimal and sophisticated, and we printed directly onto the jar instead of using a label. This also reduced production time, as the need for an extra labeling step was not required.

We later introduced a 16oz mason jar to expand the line.


With a brand in place, it was time to turn our attention to marketing. The brand was to be sold at retail, and also to patrons at Vito’s restaurant. We produced a variety of sales materials, as well as consumer-facing promotional items to launch the brand and establish awareness in the local St. Louis market. This initial push included professional photography, an ecommerce website, social media branding and content, retail floor display that held 5 cases of product, POS materials (channel strips, pricing signs) a retail brochure, signs/table tents/check inserts and other pieces for the restaurant, booth graphics for farmer’s markets, merchandise (t-shirts, a branding iron for wooden spoons,), business cards, holiday hang tags, and other items.


Mama’s Sugo is currently focused on building its brand locally, and making sure that the product and the company’s production methods can be consistently replicated as they scale up to meet demand. The sauce has performed extremely well at the restaurant, adding a new dimension of revenue to the business. Mama’s Sugo has also gained significant momentum at retail. With about 50 local retailers carrying the product, they’ve been able to hire a full-time sales person to deliver product and grow accounts. Website sales are modest thus far, though that’s largely an intentional choice to control the pace of growth. When the company is ready to invest in an online sales campaign, everything is in place to hit the ground running.

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