Local foods: Zapico Foods

Shelley Mann, Columbus Alive

Growing up, Michael Hermick ate cooked-from-scratch meals prepared by his grandmother. Grandma even baked her own birthday cakes, starting with a bag of Softasilk flour.

Now Hermick is keeping that family tradition alive, making jars of marinara sauce using a family recipe.

He makes his Zapico sauces on Mondays, his one day off from running the restaurant at the Lodge at Hide Away Hills. Hermick has never been busier, but he's also never been happier.

Last year, he left behind a successful career in medical sales to jump head-first into the food industry.

"I've always had a passion for food," Hermick said. "I turned 40 last year and decided I was going to get into the food business. I was tired of doing things for the money and not what I love."

Hermick credits Liz Lessner, a well-known cheerleader for local restaurateurs, for helping him get started. He initially arranged a meeting asking for advice on opening a restaurant. Instead, he brought Ziploc containers of his various homemade sauces and dressings. One of those sauces was a marinara made from a 100-year-old recipe Hermick's great-grandmother brought over from Italy.

"It was under the pretenses of I was going to open a competing restaurant, but I really wanted to talk to her about this sauce," Hermick said, laughing.

Lessner was impressed, and she helped Hermick set up a tasting dinner at his German Village home. She invited local foodies, as well as restaurateurs, the CEO of Sysco and buyers from local grocery stores.

Hermick prepared an eight-course feast - ravioli, meatballs, ribs, gnocchi and on and on - made with his marinara, barbecue sauce and balsamic dressing. The group loved it.

Soon after, Hermick received funding through the Economic and Community Development Institute and found production space inside Ohio State's food sciences building.

Hermick makes his sauce with fresh crushed tomatoes sourced from Toledo and California, plus peppers, onions and herbs procured from local farmers markets. He produces about 300 gallons a month, enlisting friends to help with packaging.

Hermick hawks jars of Zapico sauces at Pearl Market and the Worthington Farmers Market and sells it at Hills Market, Greener Grocer and Whole Foods. He works the sauce into pasta dishes at his Lodge at Hide Away Hills and would like to see other local restaurants incorporate his products.

"I'm really inspired by his passion," said Lessner, who speaks with about a dozen people a month who have restaurant aspirations - most of which are pipe dreams. "I met him when both the sauce line and the restaurant were just ideas in his head. Now he's in all the supermarkets. I feel like things are going to explode for him."

Photos by Jodi Miller

Zapico Foods