Richard Romano whipped up his very first batch of Screamin’ Onionz to bring to a pool party in 1996, and he received enthusiastic feedback. Years went by without a second thought about taking the onion recipe any further until a life-altering nightmare made the Romanos reevaluate everything. Their son was born three months early at just 1 pound, 14 ounces. As they tended to their son in Vassar Brothers Medical Center’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Alicia encouraged Richard to finally go after his dream.
After 20 years working in New York City’s culinary world, Romano returned to his Hudson Valley roots with a venture of his own. With his wife and business partner Alicia, Romano created Screamin’ Onionz in 2014 during the most challenging period in the couple’s life. Today, the product has expanded into local businesses and Whole Foods Markets throughout the Northeast.
A jar of Screamin’ Onionz is as versatile as it is delicious, and it suits a variety of diets, including vegan, vegetarian, Whole30 and Paleo. Each batch contains just four ingredients – peppers, onions, garlic and vinegar – and no added sugar. In addition, 100 percent of the onions used are grown in New York state. The three different versions offer varying degrees of heat: mild with sweet peppers, medium with cherry peppers and hot with cherry and cayenne peppers.
With a tax return and very little money, Romano rented a stove in the back of a pizza restaurant and started to make Screamin’ Onionz. In order to sell his product, he had to toil with certifications, licenses, scheduled processes, food lab analysis and USDA approvals. He sold his creation at local farmer’s markets and fairs, and local businesses like Marona’s Market in Millbrook, N.Y. at Adams Fairacre Farms started to make orders.
Romano then focused his energy into branding the product over the winter of 2014-2015. One month later, Screamin’ Onionz got on the shelves of its first Whole Foods Market and within 10 months were in half of the Northeast region of Whole Foods. Screamin Onionz has since expanded into Connecticut, Westchester, Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Despite this expansion, Romano wants to keep his emphasis on the local area and help to fill the needs of the neighboring communities. He started manufacturing gallons for restaurants and partnering with hospitals, colleges and private schools. Romano connected with Eat Smart New York to work with public schools and provide more nutritious food options for students.
“We know that we can be the bridge that moves public schools, that moves institutional food service operators, away from processed foods to more whole food cooking,” Romano said.
Romano began working with the REDC Procurement Technical Assistance Program to apply for government procurement which would allow Screamin’ Onionz the chance to expand into SUNY and CUNY colleges, public schools, correctional and military facilities.
The Romanos also plan to use their profit to provide charitable giving in the near future. Specifically, they want to give back to families in the NICU and provide financial assistance for the many expenses that come with that journey. The Romanos experienced this heartbreak firsthand and want to use what they’ve gained to help other families in the same position.
“One of our goals is to be able to help people who feel like they have no hope,” Romano said.
Romano began cooking at eight years old and at 14 years old began washing dishes at his father’s restaurant. He took his culinary aspirations further at SUNY Sullivan, graduating with honors. Shortly after graduation, Romano moved to New York City without an apartment to accept a position at a four-star, four-diamond property, the RIHGA Royal Hotel.
“You’re in an environment that’s completely unknown to you...You just want to run away, but you just have to convince yourself that your path is your path and you’ve got to stick it out.” Romano ultimately spent 20 years of his career working in Manhattan, holding a wide array of positions from front desk to catering to restaurant director of operations. He had the opportunity to work with well-known chefs and restaurateurs – including Larry Forgione, Jonathan Waxman, Terrence Brennan and more – which fundamentally altered the way Romano viewed his work.