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Firefighter dad sells secret pizza spice recipe for kids' college fund

Firefighter Matthew Tidrow has convinced grocery stores to sell his pizza spice packets after discovering the recipe when he ran out of pizza sauce

By Frank Witsil
Detroit Free Press 

DETROIT — About two years ago, Matthew Tidrow was making pizzas for his four young boys while his wife was at work. He had rolled out some homemade dough. The oven was heating up.

But Tidrow suddenly realized he didn’t have enough pizza sauce.

“So, I just started throwing a bunch of spices together — a little bit here, a little bit there — kind of guessing,” Tidrow, said, recalling how he folded the mixture into a can of crushed tomatoes. “I tasted it, and I was like, ‘This is really, really good.’”

He grabbed a pen and jotted down the recipe.

“The pizza came out awesome,” Tidrow, 45, said. “Then, I thought, this would be a big time saver. So I measured all the spices and put them in Ziploc bags. That way the kids could make it.”

Now Tidrow, a firefighter in suburban Detroit who dropped out of high school and later earned a GED, aims to join the ranks of American entrepreneurs who built businesses based on a simple idea — and a desire to achieve more — by selling packets of his sauce spices.

Tidrow and his business partner, Andrew Moran, who also is a firefighter, have convinced Kroger, and other stores, to sell the packets.

On his weekends and days off, Tidrow takes his spice packages to trade shows and events to sell them — hand out samples. His boys, age 12, 10, 8 and 5, sometimes help him out, too.

It’s too soon to know whether Tidrow — who has received national recognition as a firefighter — will succeed in making money with his spice packets.

They cost $3.29 at Kroger, and also are available online.

So far, Tidrow said, his spice-packet company is just breaking even.

But he said he’d like the fledgling business to eventually earn enough to supplement what he and his wife earn and help put their four young boys through college.

“It also would give me something to do when I retire from the fire department,” Tidrow said. “Maybe my boys would be interested in running part of the company.”

He recently talked about his plans. Here are bits of the conversation edited for clarity and brevity.

Q: How much have you had in sales?

A: Well, the first year I started kind of quick because they want to stock the stores. In the initial order, they needed like 7,000 packets in weeks. I was like, “Oh, sure, we can do this.” But, you realize how many 1,000 is. When you have to get that much it can be tricky.

Q: Can you give some sales figures for the year?

A: In the first year, around $20,000 or so, $30,000 last year. This year, we haven’t done as much because they have a lot of inventory and we’ve slowed down. No one really knows who we are. That’s the big thing.

Q: What is your goal?

A: To get it into more stores and get people trying it, buying it and getting reorders, and then grow into other areas. If it takes it across the United States, that would be awesome.

Q: How much time do you spend on the business?

A: My wife would say more time than I should. It can take up a lot of time. It’s hard. Just trying to learn about the food industry has been challenging. I’m a firefighter. I can put out a fire. I can save someone’s life. But, the food industry? Trying to learn that is challenging.

Q: What’s your education?

A: I went through the fire academy at a community college, and prior to that I ended up getting my paramedic training. I dropped out of high school in the 10th grade and I went back and got my GED and did all that. I really don’t want my kids knowing because I don’t want them to think that’s an option. Not too many people know about that. I’m a quick learner, but school kind of bored me, and being young, you know it all.

Q: Why did you start your business?

A: I enjoy it. I like talking with people, getting their responses and being able to make a difference making someone’s life a little bit easier. I know how it is with four boys and always running around. It’s a time saver with us. There’s some financial potential. With the cost of living, everything has gone up. My wife, she works a lot, and I work. Hopefully, we’ll get raises, but with health care costs going up and all that, we’re going backward. We need to supplement our income somehow.

Q: Does your family help out, too?

A: My wife, she’s finally coming around to accepting it. Initially, she wasn’t too pleased with it because it does take up a lot of time. In the beginning, I was spending a lot of time on it. I should have been spending more time with the family, too. The kids like making the sauce. They help out with the labeling, boxing the stuff up and showing an interest. My two older boys, they’ve been with us at some of the farmer’s markets. They think it’s cool that people like our pizza sauce.

Copyright 2017 Detroit Free Press 

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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