Panizzera Meat Co. is just a little old country place in the hamlet of Occidental but the 107- year-old company is gaining ground in the wider world for its high-quality, locally sourced meats and masterfully crafted sausages.
Just think of Italian sausages made in Old World ways and dry aged steaks so tender it’s sinful. These two items are among the dozens of meat and sausage products offered by the historic meat company on the edge of Occidental where food is the town’s identity.
Panizzera Meat Co traces its roots to 1914 when the business was established by Italian immigrants Constante and Margret Panizzera, who fled the turmoil in Italy to start a new life in America. They arrived in Occidental with only pennies in their pocket but carried along family recipes for the Italian sausage that would become their signature product. The business was eventually taken over by their son Joe, then grandson Bob Panizzera who continued the tradition until he retired in 2014.
Fortunately, two young apprentices, Josh Cerda and Ryan Taylor, who were as passionate about the meat business as the Panizzeras, learned the secrets of sausage making and other aspects of the business during their years working at the small plant. They were willing and ready to buy the business in 2014 when Bob Panizzera decided it was time to hang up his meat cleaver and apron.
While valuing the company’s history and traditions, Cerda, 36, born and raised in Occidental, and Taylor, 35, who has a degree in food science from Cal Poly, knew they had to expand and innovate to increase sales. Additionally, they believed that by making the business more relevant to today’s tastes with new product lines and expanded market outlets they could increase profitability to support their families.
“We love this business and the town of Occidental where we both live. I like innovation and trying new things. As partners Josh and I love tackling new challenges as we expand our meat products and market outlets,” said Taylor, who runs the business day-to-day and handles sales and marketing. He and his wife Laurel live minutes from the meat company.
Meanwhile, Cerda, who is a firefighter with the Occidental Fire Department, works at Panizzera two days a week when he is not on duty at the fire station.
“Owning Panizzera Meat Co. has been a challenging, but extremely rewarding dream come true for me,” said Cerda. “I have always loved the beautiful setting where I now get to work, and I even enjoy my seven-minute commute through the redwoods to get to work.”
Cerda remembers going to Panizzera when he was a kid, gazing at the meat counter and basking in the store’s old-fashioned feel.
“So now to own and help run our version of the meat counter I loved as a kid, is very rewarding,” said Cerda. “It’s also a joy for me to help carry on this family legacy, and help the business grow to its fullest potential.”
Cerda said he relishes the opportunity and challenges as he and Taylor navigate the markets and continue building their business, hopefully for the generations to come. Cerda and his wife Stephanie are expecting their first child.
“I am excited for our future at Panizzera Meat Co.,” he said. “I would love to see Panizzera carry on for another hundred years.”
Both men are involved in the close-knit Occidental community, supporting local non-profits and the organizations that keep the small-town humming.
In reshaping the business, Cerda and Taylor focused on sourcing meats from county producers like the lamb they get from Ron Crane’s Crane Creek Ranch in Santa Rosa. The beef comes from JMF Beef in Santa Rosa. Pork and chicken are from Marin Sun Farms, based in Petaluma. A selection of seafood comes from The Tides in Bodega Bay.
Taylor and Cerda worked long hours to develop new product lines, like their poplar currywurst, and to cultivate markets for their meats and sausages. They now make 30 different sausages including the Italian sausage that has been made with the Panizzera family recipe for 107 years. The Italian sausage and their basil chicken sausage are the company’s top sellers.
“We worked very, very hard, often 100-hour weeks, when we first started to get the business rolling,” said Taylor, who was working as a bartender at Negri’s in Occidental before going to work for Panizzera in 2010. He also worked in the meat department at Oliver’s Market in Cotati. “We had no money but we had this amazing opportunity to get our foot in the door of this business and make it grow.”
Today, Panizzera Meat Co., a longtime member of Sonoma County Farm Bureau, is one of the niche meat companies in the North Coast Food Shed where purveyors cater to those who want their meat humanely and naturally raised on small family operations. And for those who want to support and buy local, Panizzera totally fits the profile.
Under Taylor and Cerda, the business, which now has 13 employees, went from five wholesale outlets to 55 including Oliver’s Markets. In addition to their small retail store at the plant in Occidental, the men opened a satellite store at Andy’s Produce in Sebastopol where they sell their meat products.
Last year Panizerra Meat Co, had $1.5 million in sales, a hard-earned benchmark indicative of the extraordinary time and effort the partners channeled into their business. They anticipate even higher gross sales this year.
During the pandemic when people ate more meals at home, they saw their business boom. But they aren’t sitting back. They continue to work hard to increase sales and revenue. Taylor said one of the fastest growing segments is their online sales. They offer monthly subscriptions to boxes of choice meats and it’s winning approval from customers.
One of the most popular choices is the Panizzera Premium Meat Box which includes two thick-cut rib eye steaks, two thick cut New York steaks, two fillet mignon steaks, two top USDA prime sirloin steaks, one pound of handmade sausage and one pound of thick cut bacon. The box, which costs $119, is delievered to your day.
“We anticipate our largest growth to be on-line sales. Our monthly meat box subscriptions are growing at a nice clip every month,” said Taylor.
The business partners are proud of the quality of the meat products they are producing and are honored that consumers are responding by purchasing the Panizzera brand, which for 107 years has been driven by passion.