In its 40-year history, the famous Rossi & Sons Rosticceria of Poughkeepsie, N.Y. had only one location: in a cozy shop on Clover Street with awnings decorated with the Italian flag. But in January 2018, the deli delighted Marist College students with its arrival at the campus’ new North End dining facility. The specialty station features six of the main location’s signature paninis and the same ingredients that made Rossi’s deli a household name.
More than a year later, both the college and the deli have acclaimed the partnership’s success. The Rossi’s vodka chicken parm panini continues to be the most sold item in the North End dining facility, and Hudson Valley Magazine named the on-campus Rossi’s the best college dining option in 2018. Marist College Associate Dean for Student Affairs Steve Sansola initiated conversations about the potential collaboration with the Rossi family in early 2017.
Sansola used input from the Marist Culinary Council, consisting of a group of faculty, staff and students, to choose vendors for the North End dining facility. While more well-known chain restaurants, such as Chipotle, were considered, student feedback and already-demonstrated love for Rossi’s food confirmed the choice to stay local.
“Rossi’s had been thinking about their own idea of expanding, given their foothold in the community and the relationship with Marist. Some of the Rossi family members are Marist graduates, and there was this reciprocal idea of, ‘Could they partner with us?’” Sansola said. “So I think the timing was really good.”
Fabio Rossi, co-owner of the Poughkeepsie deli, said that Sansola expressed the overwhelming support from students about this potential collaboration.
“We went back to [Sansola] and said, ‘We want to do this. This is something that we’ve really been thinking about for a while because we have a great relationship with Marist,’” Rossi said. “So it kind of was a no brainer.”
Kate Cole, marketing director for Sodexo, said that the college continues to invest in the local community and that the addition of Rossi’s to the campus’ food offerings is another example of that initiative.
“We proudly purchase, campus wide, 50 percent of our produce and ingredients within a 200-mile radius,” Cole said. “Investing locally is very important to us. The reason why we do this is because of energy consumption, shipping weight and greenhouse emissions, while also boosting local employment and also the vitality of our community.”
Once the decision was finalized, Rossi said that the team worked for the next three or four months on how to replicate the quality of the flagship store in this secondary location. Sansola looped in Sodexo, the college’s food service provider, as a third party to negotiate the logistics, such as what ingredients would be supplied by Sodexo and what Rossi’s would provide.
Sansola added that all parties took careful time to consider logistical concerns and partner agreements, including food quality, hours of service, training, commissioning, pricing and products offered. In using the same Rossi’s bread and deli meat, all partners strove to keep the outpost as authentic as possible.
Cole said that the Rossi’s staff trained the Sodexo team and that they learned fast.
“Overall, launching a dining location of that magnitude where you’re serving thousands of meals a day is a challenge,” Cole said. “[Rossi’s] was very much part of the process and made it very easy for us to do that.”
STUDENTS WEIGH IN
Cole said that a focus group will be conducted, featuring Rossi’s cannolis, to take student input and evaluate any needs for adjustments. Students like Marist sophomore Jason Velez greatly anticipated Rossi’s grand opening and have frequented the on-campus vendor over the past year.
“I was really looking forward to having Rossi’s on campus since I’ve always heard about their sandwiches and how good they are, and before it opened, I hadn’t had some of their well-known sandwiches,” Velez said, a personal fan of the vodka chicken parm.
Sophomore Carmela D’Arienzo was similarly enthused.
“Not only did this provide us with the amazing food Rossi’s offers in a super convenient manner, but [this] started a chain reaction of additional variety of foods in dining halls across campus,” D’Arienzo said.
Velez did say that he hopes Rossi’s can further develop its on-campus offerings.
“I think the Rossi’s sandwich options could be expanded to being more than just chicken-based sandwiches and offer a greater variety of sandwiches, especially to those with dietary restrictions,” Velez said.
Senior Dylan Facey is an ardent Rossi’s fan and has nothing but good things to say about the food, calling their sandwiches “one of a kind.”
“Rossi’s is one of the most efficient establishments in the Hudson Valley,” Facey said. “I highly recommend the restaurant if anyone is in need of a good meal.”
Rossi said that he will be holding, in conjunction with Sodexo, a focus group at Marist to hear feedback and criticisms of the on-campus Rossi’s vendor this week. Rossi said that he wants to hear what sandwiches students like and if there is anything new they would like to see.
As far as future ventures are concerned, Rossi said that the biggest challenge is creating a system to allow other locations to execute the deli’s dishes on par with the flagship location. But Rossi said that he does hope to see the business as a whole grow in coming years. Gathering honest feedback is a crucial aspect of that progression forward.
“You don’t know if you’re doing the right thing until people tell you that...You need to be able to go out and ask the honest questions and get honest answers, and fix things when they’re not right,” Rossi said. “We always want it right, so that’s what drives us.”
The brilliant collaboration between Rossi’s and Marist has delighted longtime Rossi’s patrons and made new fans of students previously unfamiliar with this deli’s famous food. With a thriving flagship location and an expanding presence in the Hudson Valley, Rossi & Sons will continue to bring smiles to community as they do what they do best.