«The Bongiovi Brand Pasta Sauce is central to our family tradition,» says Mr. John Bongiovi Sr. (short «Mr. B»).
Mr. B was born in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, and grew up there with his brother. During this time, the brothers became well acquainted with pasta sauces. Even then, Mr. B observed how the sauce was prepared. Traditionally in Italy, the sauce was cooked and served for every occasion. The recipe for the pasta sauce, dating back to 1890, was a legacy passed down from the parents of his father, Louis. A few years later, his grandparents brought this treasured recipe to America from a region southwest of Sciacca, a coastal town in Sicily.
«Back then, my family used garden-fresh tomatoes,» says Mr. B, «my grandmother had her own garden and also her own chickens.» The sauce, a staple of the Bongiovi family's Italian-American cuisine, was the basis of most meals in the household.
«The young Mr. B, whose favorite dish was chicken cacciatore, worked in a barber shop and trained as a plumber. After high school, he joined the Marines and served three years at Camp Lejeune and in Virginia. Towards the end of his service as a maintenance engineer on military bases, he met Marine communications specialist Carol Sharkey.» After the marriage, Mr. B entered the hairdressing profession and worked in New Jersey for many years. He says that the personal relationship with each client has shaped his thinking: «It's about relationships, because behind the hairdresser's chair he is the psychologist, the lawyer, and the listener. It's always about the customer.» In conclusion, he took away from these years: «Communicate with people and learn something valuable from others.»
Mr. B explains that as their family began to grow, they experimented by adding new ingredients to the basic sauce and expanded their culinary repertoire.
Their first son, John Francis Bongiovi, Jr., who is known by his artist name Jon Bon Jovi, was named after his father. Their other sons, Anthony and Matthew, were born soon after. While the Bongiovi boys grew up in Sayreville, New Jersey, the traditions of their grandparents and great-grandparents continued. Together with friends and family members, they often gathered to eat pasta.
«Pasta is a staple food – and fills people up,» says Anthony (middle brother), «That's what we do. We're Italians after all,» adds Jon Bon Jovi.
«There's this picture of me cooking at the stove,» says Mr. B about the process that took four hours - just for cooking, let alone the preparation which also took hours. «Yes, that was the Sunday tradition. We had the sauce with meals all week long - sometimes just with different shaped pasta,» Anthony says. After his marriage, he says: «We started adding different ingredients to create variety. But we never forgot that it was my family's sauce. I was really the one who was more interested in cooking.»
In a personal interview, Anthony says: «Both my parents worked and there was a time when I had to learn how to make the sauce. I was probably in my early 20s. But the teamwork in the Bongiovi family is evident in many ways.» He was asked: How did Mr. B promote that? He laughed and said: «When I cooked, they cleaned up.» «Anthony's wish was to attend cooking school: «I've wanted to go to cooking school for a while because I've always loved cooking as a hobby.»
It was common to have friends over to enjoy pasta and sauce. The Bongiovi family always sat down to dinner together. «We all stayed at home and gathered around the table,» explains Anthony, «dinner was important to us. We have never lost sight of tradition - we always knew where everyone was at that moment.» Anthony describes a pre-dinner tradition: «Dad came out the back door and whistled,» he says, «I mean, it was a whistle - you could hear it all over the neighborhood. I literally ran around the neighborhood to get home. I knew the pasta was on the table!»
One day Jon Bon Jovi made his debut with the Bongiovi Brand Pasta Sauce outside the Bongiovi house. This occurred when Jon's band were in recording sessions and on tour. «I would take sauce—oh, and a few mattresses to Philadelphia where the band was recording,» says Mr. B, because «Musicians have to eat!»
«What we did in the kitchen in our family, we did for the band,» says Mr. B.
So when the boys brought their friends, the band and roadies also came along if there was a concert nearby. When Anthony joined Jon's touring team to do video production and recording, he just couldn't leave the sauce behind. «I canned sauces at home and took them with me on tour.» He says he managed to share some of it. «Dad brought the sauce to the arena when we were around» Anthony adds.
When Anthony and his father decided to produce the sauce for sale, they thought it might not work. «But the possibility of capturing this magic in the production process,» says Anthony, «I experimented with that and pretty much surprised everyone with my 'creation',» he chuckles, «It probably took six years, but now it's loved by a lot of Jon Bon Jovi fans!»