SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - South Orange’s own meatball guy now has his own meatball day.
Sunday is MamaMancini’s Day at Above restaurant, with a feast of spaghetti and turkey, beef or spicy balls to recognize Daniel Mancini, founder of MamaMancini’s meatballs.
If that wasn’t enough, he’ll also be celebrating National Meatball Day on Wednesday.
The plaudits are a surprise for a man who started cooking up his grandma’s recipes as a way to ease out of a stressful lifestyle.
After a 25 year run in the apparel industry Mancini, who still lives in town, was aware of the crashing economy and decided that everyone just needed to slow down.
If everyone just chilled and made a family dinner, maybe they would be able to step back from their crazy lifestyles, Mancini said.
During Mancini’s childhood his family never went out to dinner. His grandmother would cook all the time and everyone would hang out at the table.
Mancini wanted to take this lifestyle and find a way to recreate it for other people.
“The only way I could think of was to take my grandma’s meatballs and sauce recipe and try to package it as a meal,” he said.
“Being Italian, I would never buy a meatball, so I said If I could find a meatball an Italian would want to buy than I have a meatball everyone’s going to want to buy. So I decided it had to be my grandma’s recipe and not change anything in it.”
Mancini took that recipe to the owners of Eden Gourmet when the store first opened on South Orange Avenue, and had them try it. They immediately told Mancini if he could make them, they would sell them.
Mancini partnered with neighbor Carl Wolf, and started cooking up Italian feasts. Eden Gourmet was the first place to carry the meatballs in Sunday sauce. They soon hit the shelves of all six of the chain’s stores, and then local Whole Foods Markets.
The big break for MamaMancini’s Meatballs came when Mancini was featured on an episode of The Martha Stewart Show on April, 21 2009. Martha aired the segment again July of the same year.
“I guess she got a great response,” he said.
MamaMancini’s just launched turkey meatballs and sausage and peppers with onions, which are currently available in the Garden of Eden marketplaces and The Fresh Market. In March, for the first time, MamaMancini’s will be selling the Sunday sauce in bottles.
Mancini noted, “The way it looks, we will soon be in every store in the country. Everywhere we go, everyone wants the meatballs. We have yet to hit a store that says I don’t want these.”
MamaMancini’s now has a base in East Rutherford, NJ, and sales people around the world. It produces 300,000 meatballs a month and, by May, expects to expand production to 700,000.
“The plan is to have Mama’s in every house across the country,” he said.