Zachary Cizek’s dream of selling delectable sandwiches and sauces started with a study abroad trip to Florence, Italy in the summer of 2009. The marketing major and self-proclaimed “foodie” had a great study-abroad experience, but what stuck out most in his mind was a special sandwich he’d tasted there, made from a tender brisket, slowly simmered with wine and vegetables, which added a memorable flavor.
His senior year of college, when Cizek needed to come up with a small-business plan for a business entrepreneurial class, he chose to investigate selling this unforgettable sandwich. “I knew I had a strong passion for food and this sandwich,” he said. “I called it a Taste of Tuscany. I still have (my final report and research).”
Following graduation, Cizek worked diligently to perfect his sandwich while working full-time as a medical sales representative. It was while listening to a pep talk from life coach Tony Robbins that he decided to “go for it” and enter the sandwich-selling business; Robbins advised him that if there was something he was really passionate about and couldn’t stop thinking about, he should do it.
Cizek obtained his food manager license, took classes on safe food management, and begin selling sandwiches at a booth during a Twin Cities festival. He attended four food fairs and events in Minnesota and then relocated to Chicago (with his full-time job) and continued spreading delectable dishes at festivals further south.
Customers, he said, loved the sandwich and Bollito’s got fantastic reviews. Everyone especially raved about the red sauce Cizek made from specially imported Italian peppers.
Cizek refocused his business to bottling and selling his red sauce under the Bollito’s/Tuscan Red Sauce label. He learned to acidify the sauce and make the product shelf-stable. From sandwiches to pizza to eggs, he boasts his sauce makes the perfect addition.
The Tuscan Red Sauce is currently in 12 stores in Chicago and, beginning May 1, it will be sold in all 56 Midwest Whole Foods Markets. He went from selling 5 to 10 cases a month to needing to produce 50 to 100 cases.
He will be launching additional sauce varieties and then expand into the salad dressing market. His dream is also to begin a Bollito’s fast casual restaurant chain.
“Stepping outside of the box is key,” he advises future entrepreneurs. “Saint Mary’s was so great. Faculty encouraged me to concentrate on my passion and put it into my plan. I attribute my business to Saint Mary’s.”
He credits the experience he received being a part of the Mayo Innovation Scholars Program, and he advises students to take advantage of all of the programming and networking Saint Mary’s offers, particularly through the Kabara Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies. No surprise, one speaker that sticks in Cizek’s mind was David W. Anderson of Famous Dave’s.
“Saint Mary’s did a great job of bringing people from different businesses in, showing us opportunities and potential,” he said. “They really inspired me. I thought, ‘I could do that!’ If Bill Gates did what everyone else was doing, he would be an IT manager at IBM.”