Rochester, N.Y. - They haven't made Ragu in Rochester for years, but the company with its roots in that classic spaghetti sauce is bigger and busier than ever.
LiDestri Foods puts out more than a thousand different products including sauces, salsas and, more recently, another kind of "sauce." The company is moving into spirits with a line of its own alcohol-based products, liquors and liqueurs made or packaged for other companies.
On the day we visited the Lee Road plant, workers on the line were filling freezer pouches for slushies for adults. In another area of the sprawling facility, bottles of Godiva Chocolate Liqueur were being filled and packed at a rate of 2,000 cases per day.
The operation is impressive, but there is less emphasis here on what is made than on the people who are making it. LiDestri has always put the focus on its employees. In fact, the company's mission statement reads: "The primary purpose for the continued existence of the LiDestri businesses is to provide safe, meaningful and well-paying jobs for all of its employees."
Employee Maureen Foster came to LiDestri after her job at auto industry manufacturer Valeo was moved to Mexico. After 25 years, she had to start over. Now she takes special pride in seeing LiDestri products in local stores.
"You tend to look more when your shopping to see what they carry that we make here," she said.
As for that mission putting employees first, President and CEO Giovanni LiDestri explains.
"We think that by taking care of the employees, we can get all of the other objectives done much better" he said. "So it's kind of a selfish thing if you really look into it."
Brothers Giovanni, or John, and Santi LiDestri came to work at what was then Cantisano Foods in the early 1960s. They worked the lines decades before they ended up running the company. And the never forgot where they got their start.
Santi said, "Our employees are an extension of our family. We know everyone by first name."
LiDestri employs more than 700 people full-time in Monroe County. There are also hundreds of contract employees here, and another 250 full-timers at LiDestri facilities in other states. Some of the products carry the LiDestri name. Others are made under contract for other companies, such as Newman's Own and Barilla. Others are private label brands for stores including Wegmans, Target, and Publix.
"I think once you take care of the employees, they're going to take of the customers and they're going to put out a good product, and there's just really no other way of doing it," Giovanni LiDestri said. And he emphasized the company is not just still doing business here, it is growing here.