30 years of pleasurable business
Mediterranean Foods is a proud family-run business for over 30 years, operating since 1990.
What does a plumber, mechanic and fish shop in Cuba Street have to do with a company that is NZ’s largest importer and distributor of specialty Mediterranean food products?
Mediterranean Foods traces its origins to the southern Italy immigrants who made NZ their home in the mid 20th century who not only faced the challenge of a new culture and language but also missed the absence of food from their home country.
Mediterranean Foods as we know it today had its beginning from a fish shop in Cuba Street in 1990. The shop previously managed by Joe and Gino Cuccurullo’s father Antonio and his long time friend, Camillo Amitrano, was where it all began.
Brothers, Joe and Gino shortly after taking over the Wellington Fisheries shop decided to develop the wholesale side of the business selling fresh seafood to Wellington’s restaurants.
But in 1994 they moved to Lyall Bay to purchase a larger fish processing facility on land where today Bunnings is located.
In 1996 they decided to extend the range of products they offered and started to import some Mediterranean-style deli and grocery items that would appeal to restaurants and also themselves!!
Starting with just a pallet in 1996 of products from an importer in Christchurch with whom they eventually set up the Mediterranean Group, an importing company. They now import into NZ over 200 containers per year by sea.
In 1999 they moved the business to the current location in Constable St, Newtown, where in time a pizzeria was added.
In 2002 they imported a pizza oven from the same village from where their father was born which was made by a local artisan. When the oven arrived the shipping container was one third pizza oven and 2 thirds pasta!
In 2011 a makeover of the original store was complete with a new layout and the pizzeria was extended to allow more seating. It was also at this time that the original oven was replaced for a larger one, this time being made right here in NZ.
Family has always been in important to Joe and Gino with their father in his retirement coming each day to do tasks like packing olives and cutting cheese along with making his well known doughnuts long before they became so popular today. Mother, Teresa, used to wash and iron all the linen used in the pizzeria. Today Joe’s son, Anthony is the Warehouse Manager for the warehouse in Wellington. Joe and Gino’s other children have all worked at some stage in the family business while studying. Their sister, Nina joined the team in 2017, and works on the marketing and retail promotion side of the business.
The trattoria walls proudly display photos of the family which also tell the history of Wellington’s Italian community.
In 2013 a book by Mediterranean Foods called ‘Food and Family – Tastes and Memories of Italy’ was published and believe to be the first book of its kind produced with original recipes from an Italian immigrant community in NZ. The book was also an avenue for providing a history of Italian families who had made their home in Wellington.
The year 2013 also marked the beginning of the online side of the business which has been increasing over the years due to people’s shopping habits. Joe and Gino endeavour to keep abreast of changes in this changing world and having this arm of the business was vital during the time of the COVID-19 restrictions.
By 2016 the Newtown side of the business rebranded and is now Mediterranean Foods Trattoria and Deli. Initially stock was arranged in a warehouse like setting, hence the original name but a huge makeover was undertaken where today customers enjoy a stylish and contemporary decor and a light filled dining area along with a well stocked shop and deli including wines from around the Mediterranean. Loyal customers have seen many changes over the years and have followed the journey.
Also at this time the adjoining storage area in Newtown was turned into a carpark and a warehouse along with offices was purchased in a nearby location to accommodate the growing stock and so large containers could be unloaded more easily.
Joe and Gino travel overseas each year to the Mediterranean in search of new products, attending food shows and to maintain relationships with suppliers who have now become friends. Trips to Italy though are also an opportunity to visit family who are scattered all over Italy. Products are not all from overseas as a variety of Mediterranean inspired products by NZ companies are sold also.
During one of their first visits, Joe recalls visiting a Spanish peach producer who was so protective of their product that he didn’t know if they would actually agree to supply the business. When Joe visited the factory in Murchia, it was like going to Fort Knox. He was asked many questions, like why he was there and who had told him about them. An agreement was reached and now each year part of the peach orchard is allocated to Mediterranean Foods who have been importing the popular Spanish peaches by the container load since 2002.
Joe and Gino started one of the original wood fired pizza businesses in Wellington but in 2019 lead the charge again to show the latest innovation from Italy by installing a new electric pizza oven from Naples. They had felt the responsibility as a business to make more environmentally friendly decisions, hence an eco-friendly pizza oven. They had already in 2016 stopped the use of plastic bags long before these were banned.
Joe and Gino quote Massimo Bottura (Italian restaurateur and the chef patron of Osteria Francescana, a three-Michelin-star restaurant based in Modena, Italy) who says
“Let’s treasure tradition while looking at innovation”.
While Mediterranean Foods Trattoria and Deli in Newtown is the face to the general public it is only 25% of the business as the rest is wholesale supply to companies such as Farro in Auckland and My Food Bag. Their products are also sold to cafés, restaurants, shops, large food manufacturers and hotels.
This year a storage facility in Auckland was set up to meet the expanding Auckland market which keeps the growing Auckland sales team busy.
“Who knows what the future holds. We are both getting older but are just as motivated and passionate about growing our business as when we started in 1990. We have grown up surrounded by hard working families whether they were in business, employees, relatives or loyal friends”.
While Mediterranean Foods has steadily grown over the years, the basis of the business has not changed with the increased scale. Joe and Gino take seriously the job of satisfying customers high expectations.
Mediterranean Foods Trattoria and Deli is about creating food experiences for people attracted to fresh, healthy and tasty flavours with dishes ready to eat immediately in the trattoria or to create at home. They want Kiwis to embrace the benefits of the healthy Mediterranean Diet – Eat, drink and be healthy the Mediterranean Foods way!