For Rob Salamida, Broome County has always symbolized the “Valley of Opportunity.” An expression popular in the days of American entrepreneurs George F. Johnson and Thomas J. Watson, Rob Salamida has worked his whole life embracing that sentiment. Born and raised in Broome County, his first business was at eleven-years-old selling bottled soda to nearby highway construction workers from a hand-made wagon. The thriving summer enterprise soon ended once school began, but this did not snuff out Rob’s entrepreneurial spirit. In fact, it only sparked his passion and encouraged him to look for future enterprise ventures.
Most business founders have unique stories of how they started. Salamida’s Original State Fair Spiedie Sauce has its early roots from a family vacation in Ocean City, New Jersey. One evening while the family was walking along the boardwalk, Salamida overheard his father remark to his older brother how lucrative a spiedie stand on the boardwalk would be.
“Don’t tell Rob,” his brother replied, “because he’ll tell everybody about this great idea.” The next day eleven-year-old Rob went to a real estate broker asking how he could get a place on the boardwalk. “You just have to wait ’til somebody dies,” was the response. Back home, he persisted and wrote letters to other realtors. Today, he still has a 1963 sales sheet listing a small boardwalk building at $35,000!
For Salamida, the dream of taking the spiedie sandwich outside of Broome County began when he sold spiedies in front of local Endicott taverns on summer weekend evenings to make money for college. At the end of the summer, he went to the New York State Fair with some friends. It was a flashback to the Jersey boardwalk idea: What if you sold spiedies at the New York State Fair?
While in college, he wrote to state fair officials asking for an outdoor booth but was told everything was taken. Staying true to his persistent nature, he sent more letters over the next few months only to get the same unfortunate response. Summer came, and Salamida continued his weekend grilling setup.
Rob Salamida continued grilling spiedies on weekends during the summer of 1971. One August morning, upon hearing a radio ad about the upcoming State Fair, he drove to Syracuse. When he entered the fair administration offices and gave his name to the secretary, she gasped, “So you’re the one who’s been writing us all of those letters!” An hour later, the nineteen-year-old had a signed food vendor contract. Having been told he was the youngest person to have his own booth, they thought, he’d never make it back for opening day. Salamida only had eight days to get everything ready for a ten-day event that was nearly two hours from home. Through hours and hours of hard work, he made it through his first New York State Fair and then rushed off to his first year of college. He returned for another twelve years, building up a loyal following with many repeat customers often saying how they wished he would open a restaurant back in their hometowns.
After graduating from Bryant College in 1974, Salamida did not return that year to the State Fair. He began his corporate career with Procter & Gamble as a field advertising representative. However, within a year his mind was made up that he wanted to return home to Broome County and start his own business. Fortunately, he got his spot back at the fairgrounds and that is when the spiedie “eureka” moment happened.
The opening day of the 1975 Fair began with heavy dark clouds that soon brought a severe thunderstorm. The rain was pouring down hard and flooding the streets as the strong winds nearly blew off the top of his concession booth. Salamida said within a few hours of despairing constant rain he was up to his ankles in mud and questioning his judgment of quitting a corporate job. At that moment he suddenly thought, “There must be a better way to get spiedies to my patrons… Put the sandwich in a bottle, put the spiedie in a bottle!” Ten months later he began bottling his marinade recipe, one ingredient at a time, by hand on top of a pool table in his parent’s basement. This process is still done today. And bringing one of the first pre-made marinades to market wasn’t the only thing Salamida changed. Up until Salamida launched his sauce, the Italian treat was commonly listed as a “spiedi”. But, while designing his original diamond-shaped label, an extra ‘e’ was added at the end to help balance the appearance. Thus creating “spiedie”! Once the bottles were filled, labels were on, caps were sealed, Salamida would pack up the boxes and delivered cases from the trunk of his car. This begins his new journey, one that would start new traditions and legacies, and put Broome County on the map as the Spiedie Capitol of the World.
From the basement of his parent’s home to the production facility in Johnson City, Salamida has grown considerably while keeping all production in Broome County. Today, the Rob Salamida Company makes dozens of retail grocery products besides the State Fair Original Spiedie Sauce, including the Cornell Style Chicken Barbecue Sauce, the Lemon Garlicious Marinade, and several other flavors. Other product lines include Hunter’s Pride Wild Game Marinades, Chestnut Hill Marinades, and seasoning blends under the Pinch label as well as proprietary products for Orlando’s Universal Studios Theme Park. Salamida also developed new flavor recipes to manufacture private label marinades for Wegmans, Price Chopper, and Stew Leonard grocery chains. The Salamida success story has been featured in national magazines including Men’s Journal, Saveur, Food Finds, Gourmet Foods, and newspaper articles in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, and Charlotte Observer.
Like the good-willed industrialists that came before him, Rob Salamida has also given back to his community through continuous product donations for many local non-profits as well as donating profits from selling spiedies at various local charity fundraisers. In 1983, Salamida and Paul Van Savage co-founded the first Spiedie Fest at Broome County’s Otsiningo Park.
For more than thirty-five years Salamida has also dedicated his time to teaching the business leaders of tomorrow on a part-time basis, first at BOCES and then as an adjunct professor at SUNY-Broome.
One of his early and continuous efforts for promoting Broome County’s love of spiedies is the iconic, “What’s A Spiedie? T-shirt. Emblazoned on the front is the description, “It’s a Tasty Treat of Marinated Meat, Char-broiled and Fed on Italian Sliced Bread.”
You can purchase your favorite marinades and other Salamida products online at shop.spiedie.com or in many of the independent and large chain stores. As for his favorite spiedie sandwich, Rob Salamida recommends the Italian version made from lamb and marinated in the Original State Fair Spiedie Sauce.
The Rob Salamida Company is a proud part of the Made in Broome program and
Rob Salamida is a reason why #BroomeisGood.