Milford moms hope to get their sauce in supermarkets, go national

MILFORD — For Elissa Brown and Callie Bundy, combining the worlds of full-time employment and motherhood have made for fulfilling lives — except when it came to finding time to whip up healthy meals every night.

But that all changed when, while exchanging texts, the pair saw an opportunity to fill their own need while helping other families by making a pasta sauce for those who want to eat healthy but do not have the hours needed for food prep.

That was the moment Strong Sauce was born.

“Elissa and I were texting one night, and we realized that there was a hole in the market,” said Bundy. “The next morning, we decided it was a great idea, and we created a sauce because there is nothing out there that has the protein, nutrition, low sodium and low sugar in the sauce.”

“We are both busy moms with full careers, and I was looking for something better that I feel great about giving my daughter that I can enjoy as well,” added Brown.

The pair said that Strong Sauce gives the same experience that people are used to, but with better ingredients. The sauce is 100 percent plant-based, vegan and gluten-free.

The duo had the idea to make their healthy sauce about three years ago.

“Callie had her beautiful son, and I was working in the city. Then COVID happened,” said Brown. “We were all home, and it was a great time for us to consider doing this, especially when Stephen (Roth, a classically trained chef) entered as our partner. We had the tools and skill set, and we had the time to do it, and I think that was a big part of it.”

Bundy said Brown was making great recipes, but they didn’t know how to cook beyond one pot of sauce, which they needed to do.

“We met Stephen in 2020, with his particular set of skills that we were very desperately lacking as far as being a classically trained chef and his experience in the restaurant business overseeing all the operations,” said Bundy. “He entered the equation and started perfecting our recipe.”

Roth said it was in October of 2020 when they all met in Telluride, Colo., where he was working at the time.

“Someone said, ‘Hey, why don’t you tell him about your idea? Maybe he can help out,’” he said. “I liked the idea and spent about six months, with their permission, kicking around recipes. I would fly into New York for the weekend, and we would cook some stuff, and we kept on focusing all our palates down until we came up with something we all really liked.

“I’m very fortunate I crossed paths with these two ladies, and they invited me in on this idea,” Roth added. “They are my inspiration, and I’m going to be forever grateful just to be able to take something that wasn’t there before and make it happen. It’s fantastic.”

Even though Brown and Bundy did not have the expertise that Roth brought along, they have years of experience in the marketing and public relations field, which helped them develop a brand strategy to promote the sauce.

“If I was an electrician and these two did something else, we wouldn’t be sitting here,” said Roth. “The idea would have never worked if we didn’t have the backgrounds that we have.”

“I found a complete salsa line that I created for my mom back when I was in college just for fun,” said Bundy. “This is what I wanted to do. I had the logo, the name, the marketing, the serial number, everything. It was serendipitous because every hole we needed to fill to create this specific business came individually from each of us and our background.”

“People don’t realize the back-end work that needs to happen,” added Brown. “From Callie having her own website and brand, me launching brands for e-commerce and in-store, it was like these are the steps we need to take.”

The marketing background came into play when the decision was made to have a blue label instead of the traditional red label found on various pasta sauces.

“Everything is red, or grandma's checkered table cloth, but we wanted to do a disruptive color, an interesting logo that is eye-catching on the shelf,” said Brown.

When the trio was developing a taste for Strong Sauce, each of their children were the official taste testers for the sauce.

“My daughter is a softball player, and we had the entire team over, and we did a make-your-own pasta bar,” said Brown. “We put regular sauce and our sauce, and they all loved the sauce. They were dipping in chips, so we are saying it is kid-tested, and softball team approved, and we are happy about that.”

“My brother's kids were over, and they didn’t want hot dogs and hamburgers, and I started making Strong Sauce, and they were asking for seconds,” said Bundy.

When they were experimenting with the sauce, they decided to make sure it could be used in various ways, from using chicken parm, lasagna or as a party platter to use it as a bread dip.

“Where this sits in the market is yes, we like to compare it to tomato sauce because it has that flavor of a marinara sauce,” said Roth. “This sauce is thicker than traditional tomato sauce. (It) has the viscosity of a traditional bolognese sauce. It has some meaty backbone to it, but yet, it is meat-free.”

Roth said the protein they use in the sauce is from lentils, red quinoa and garbanzo beans, and where traditional tomato sauce has one gram of protein per serving, Strong Sauce has seven grams of protein per serving.

Brown said they’d received a lot of feedback, but the most they have gotten is how the sauce is time-saving.

“This is a sauce you can always have in your pantry, and know that you are going to have a sustainable and full meal ready to go,” she said.

The trio officially launched the e-commerce site for Strong Sauce on Feb. 27, and they have plans to partner with different grocery stores to have their product on their shelves.

“Our long-term goal is to get larger distribution,” Bundy said. “We are going to be working with supermarkets, farmers markets and local grocery stores, with the goal of being a national brand.”

“We’ve had 100 orders so far,” said Roth.

“Nobody is doing it yet, so the challenge is going to be not a lot of people fully understand the product yet,” said Brown. “That’s where doing the farmers markets, doing in-store demos and getting educating people on the product and getting them to taste it is going to be huge for us.”