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“5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became the CEO of Cucina Antica Foods” With Chef Neil Fusco

I’m strongly in favor of a proper work/life balance. You need this to succeed, to not “burn out” at work. My advice would be to have passions outside of work and make sure to check out of work while you’re pursuing these passions — whether it be going to church, reading a book or going […]

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I’m strongly in favor of a proper work/life balance. You need this to succeed, to not “burn out” at work. My advice would be to have passions outside of work and make sure to check out of work while you’re pursuing these passions — whether it be going to church, reading a book or going on vacation.


Chef Neil Fusco grew up on a small farm in southern Italy as the eldest of five, the firstborn son of Italian farmers. While growing up, Neil and his siblings helped their parents with the responsibility of tending to the farm and its crop of tomato plants. Eventually, Neil and his family immigrated to New York, where he began working in the food industry, first as a restaurant owner and chef, then as the founder of a specialty food products company. In building Cucina Antica Foods, Corp., Chef Neil’s goal has been to offer a quality product that families can feel good about sharing.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Growing up on a farm, hard work was a part of everyday life. My siblings and I rose every morning with the sun and followed our mother on the mile-long trek to the tomato fields. One of our responsibilities was to pull the weeds between the rows of tomato plants because the weeds would rob the plants of nutrients if we left them. My sisters and I would make a game out of it, seeing who could pull the most weeds from around the roots of the tomato plants. My family and I came together as one in working on our farm and cooking what our hard-work earned us. I remember one instance, after I cooked my mother a meal while she was on bedrest, I began to see that food does more than just nourish the body. The sharing of food nourishes the soul and brings us joy — long after the meal has ended.

Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?

One of the first major challenges I encountered was realizing that just having a great product is not enough. It has to sell, and it didn’t at first. I had three great sauces, and I was struggling with the door-to-door technique. I can say satisfaction came through the frustration because I knew I had a quality product. Later, I learned that marketing goes hand-in-hand with a product. I needed to tell a story and develop a plan, which later helped my sales take off.

What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?

We don’t cut corners or compromise when it comes to the quality of our product. From my early upbringing, persistence and passion has been the cornerstone of our brand’s success.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.

  • Due to how difficult it was in the beginning, the first thing I wish I’d have been told when I started would be, “It’ll be hard, but be persistent. Don’t accept no.”
  • The second thing would be, “Choose the right people for your team.” To become a well-oiled machine and handle a company once it’s taken off, you need to be able to rely on the people around you. They have to be passionate, trustworthy and hard-working.
  • The third thing would be, “Care for your customer.” Once you’re structurally sound, be consistent with your product and its message. We care for our customer because we care about servicing them well. They’re family.
  • The fourth thing would be to evolve. Nothing is set, especially in a fast-paced industry. You don’t want to be left behind in the dust. You have to watch, learn and evolve.
  • The fifth thing would be “never sacrifice quality.” Quality always comes first because consumers can always tell the difference.

What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

I’m strongly in favor of a proper work/life balance. You need this to succeed, to not “burn out” at work. My advice would be to have passions outside of work and make sure to check out of work while you’re pursuing these passions — whether it be going to church, reading a book or going on vacation.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

To be honest, I did it on my own, by the grace of God. People were reluctant to help me along the way, especially people in the industry. I had people telling me, “time is money.” The first packaging professional I worked with was especially difficult. Because I was new to the industry, I had so many questions. When I asked him a few, he said, “You know what? I also wear a consultant hat.” He charged me $500 to answer my questions. Since then, I’ve always said that I’d never be that way. I welcome questions and offer help to anyone who asks.

What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?

To be honest, I did it on my own, by the grace of God. People were reluctant to help me along the way, especially people in the industry. I had people telling me, “time is money.” The first packaging professional I worked with was especially difficult. Because I was new to the industry, I had so many questions. When I asked him a few, he said, “You know what? I also wear a consultant hat.” He charged me $500 to answer my questions. Since then, I’ve always said that I’d never be that way. I welcome questions and offer help to anyone who asks.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!

There’s a lack of truth in the world today, socially; economically and politically. There is a right or a wrong, and that line needs to be drawn to establish the truth. People need to make ethical decisions based on that truth. The movement I would start would be to share the truth so that you can be honest, intentional and ethical with your actions — especially in running a business.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow us on Instagram (@cucinaantica) and Twitter (@cucinaantica). To purchase our products, visit https://cucina-antica.com/.

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About the author:

Carly Martinetti is a writer and entrepreneur who previously founded two award-winning pet tech companies. She loves to explore the intricacies surrounding what makes a successful business leader, their passions, and motivations to improve the world as we know it.

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