Importing Italy…

Their friends told them it wouldn’t work here. They told them to try it in New York or New Jersey.

But Franco and Jo-Ann Franch didn’t listen.

“My husband just said: ‘I don’t live in New York. I live here, so this is where I’m doing it,'” Jo-Ann Franchi explained.

Thus P.L. Rossi arrived in Baton Rouge, throwing open a new window on the culinary world for South Louisiana residents with its European gourmet and gift imports.

“We feel quite confident that the people here are traveled enough,” says Jo-Ann Franchi. “And, I think, everybody likes imported items. It’s different from what you can get at home.”

For now, she says, the budding company is concentrating on mail order business for the holiday season, while plans for a store location around the Corporate Boulevard area are finalized. She says the store should be up and running by the spring of ’93.

“We just got our Web page up and we’ve got a small catalog right now,” says Franchi. “Right now we started with Italy and France because my husband’s from Italy, our partners are from Italy and we’re from that area close to France. But, eventually, we will have items from Austria, from Germany and so on. It’s called European Gourmet and Gifts, but everybody has to start somewhere, so we started in our own back yard.”

Franchi says the store will offer more than the desserts and delicacies found in the catalog. It also will feature items such as glassware, handpainted, artist-signed porcelain, and pewter from Italy. However, food will remain the focus.

“We will specialize in non-refrigerated items–except for our wine,” Franchi says, adding that most will be all-natural and preservative-free. “The Italians don’t believe in preservatives. They hate them.”

The Franchis will draw on the gourmet and food supply business experience of their three overseas partners for guidance and supplier connections. In fact, one of their partners, Pier Luigi Rossi, a renowned olive oil-maker, was the inspiration for the company name.

“I was e-mailing him and I used his initials,” Jo-Ann Franchi recalls. “It just hit me that I really liked the sound of it.”

She said that, after that, she put together a list of potential names and passed it around to friends and associates, who unanimously selected P.L. Rossi.

“We also needed a name people could pronounce,” she adds.

Right now the Franchis and their manager, Jim Hill, a recent graduate in marketing from Southeastern and a friend of the family, are working at filling their already well-stocked warehouse and completing their network of suppliers.

“When I was in Italy last year–we go every year–we began contacting different people all throughout Italy,” she says. “In fact, we want to regionalize, because Italy is comprised of several regions. We want to get things from each region.

“We’ll have all specialty items, really. We’ll have in the store–I don’t have them right now because they’re going through Washington and getting their certifications–grilled artichokes, grilled zucchini, grilled eggplant and more.”

Franchi says she hopes to bring in a number of products from Sicily.

“Most of the Italians that I’ve met since I’ve been here are from Sicilian origin,” she says. “So I tried to get as many things as I could that were characteristic of that region–and, of course, I’ll keep adding when I go to Sicily again.”

Quality is another primary concern for the Franchis. Their aim, according to Jo-Ann Franchi and Hill, is to sell only “high-end” merchandise. In order to achieve this goal, they are seeking to bring in products produced in the particular region that specializes in them.

“Our pesto sauce is from Liguria because that area is known for its production of the highest-quality basil, and basil’s the main ingredient in pesto,” she says.

Hill and Jo-Ann Franchi both say promotion of P.L. Rossi has been limited until they decide where they will locate the store. They will continue with limited advertising and catalog mailouts, as well as maintaining a Web site, www.plrossi.com, to attract holiday gift buyers, but their eye is firmly on the future.

In fact, Franchi finds it hard not to talk about everything she has planned for their outlet.

“We’ll have all kinds of things that we couldn’t fit in this little tiny catalog,” she says. “The store will have a tremendous amount of items. There will be all Binds of imported gourmet products–anything that doesn’t require refrigeration. We won’t he a deli–no cheese and meats. But anything else we’ll have–gourmet soups. sauces, even liqueurs.

“It’s going to be quite interesting for people. I think it will be a learning experience when they come in. They’ll really enjoy it.”

Copyright Baton Rouge Business Report Dec 08, 1998

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