Food Artisans: Hoboken Farms
"My grandmother made a really good sauce," says Brad Finkel of Hoboken Farms, "but mine is much better."
The secret to Finkel's successful sauce? Really great tomatoes. "We look for sugar content and acidity balance," he says, "That makes it taste great." He uses New Jersey tomatoes when they're in season and California tomatoes when Jerseys' aren't. Finkel explains that his Big Red Marinara occasionally is unavailable when he's had to send tomatoes back that don't meet his standards, saying, "We work so hard to build our reputation, we're not going to ruin it with half-ass tomatoes."
And quite a reputation it is. In May, the Wall Street Journal online named Hoboken Farms the best-tasting jarred tomato sauce. Finkel found about the honor at the same time he was opening a sandwich shop in Summit, New Jersey, and admits that he wasn't prepared for the hundreds and hundreds of emails from people who wanted to buy directly from him. Luckily, another Hoboken son, Buddy "Cake Boss" Valastro, was recommending it on the shopping site OpenSky and Finkel was able to send people who wanted to buy online there.
The company's name is a bit of a joke. Finkel says, "There are no farms in Hoboken. You know that. I know that. We're playing with people." But it is primarily a farmstand business, selling bread, mozzarella, and tomato sauce at 30 weekly farm markets in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Finkel had been selling the sauce exclusively at markets until people at the Rutgers Food Innovation Center suggested that he had a good chance of success with a retail product. He started out selling exclusively at Whole Foods, but the sauce is also available at smaller shops, including Brooklyn Farmacy.
Aside from using it on pasta, Finkel suggests pairing his gluten-free and kosher-certified marinara with meatballs, putting it on a chicken parm sandwich, adding a little to some vegetable soup, or putting it on crab cakes ("I don't believe in tartar sauce").
While his customers and retailers are interested, it's unlikely that there will be more Hoboken Farms sauce varieties in the future, since Finkel isn't interested in expanding the brand just for the sake of it. "I make a good vodka sauce, he says, "Is it a great vodka sauce? I don't know. But this is a great marinara."
Find a list of farmers markets where Hoboken Farms sells their wares or drool over the sandwich shop menu at hobokenfarms.com.