They’re not selling just a garden variety brew
By Mike Danahey firstname.lastname@example.org December 21, 2012 12:32PM
Samples of the Seefurths’ pizza beer and their original crust. | Submitted
Updated: January 24, 2013 6:19AM
CAMPTON TWP. — Necessity may be the mother of invention, but sometimes what needs to be picked ASAP in the backyard garden will do just as well — and can get you on store shelves and on TV in England.
That’s been the case for Tom Seefurth, who wound up finding a use for some tomatoes and herbs he and his wife Athena had been growing during the summer of 2006. They ended up in the first batch of the strange brew eventually known as Mamma Mia! Pizza Beer.
The ale is a mix of typical beer ingredients, plus real tomato, garlic, basil and oregano — and has become a calling for the couple as they continue to press on for commercial success. While they might not be rolling in the dough just yet, the beer and accompanying product line — found online at www.mammamiapizzabeer.com — have become a steadily growing business and a life’s passion for the Seefurths.
This fall, the couple worked out a deal to have some of their items stocked in Jewel-Osco stores in South Elgin and St. Charles by 2013. It’s part of the grocer’s new hyper-local program, which allows budding local businesses to sell their products directly to the chain without having to go through a distributor.
Earlier this month, the Seefurths and their entrepreneurial endeavor were featured on CNBC.
“CNBC contacted us after our New Jersey distributor, Hunterdon, posted on Twitter. It was nice to have an article about the business end of things,” Seefurth said.
As that story pointed out, the Seefurths continue to put in very long hours, and their efforts in part have been spurred by the sagging economy — particularly the housing market, because Tom was a Realtor and Athena a mortgage specialist.
“Now I do referral (real estate) service only; and no, the market is not improving — unless you have the ability to purchase and rent out your investment,” Seefurth said.
The hard work on Mamma Mia! includes lots of in-store appearances, particularly at Woodman’s and Whole Foods locations. Nine of the latter stores carry the Seefurth’s products, mostly in the Chicago market but also in Ann Arbor, Mich.
As for how things are going, Seefurth said, “Illinois is our top market for foodie products; and since we spent literally every Friday, Saturday, Sunday in Woodman’s Markets the first year, the food products in that chain are in overdrive. Whole Foods Markets are a natural for our foodstuffs as well. They totally support cross-merchandising and have a great demo program. Metcalfe’s in Wisconsin has really helped with the beer-food combo. Hy-Vee (a Midwest grocer with 235 locations) supports the concept as well by merchandising the beer in the pizza aisle with our dough.”
The pizza beer remains the best-selling Mamma Mia! item, but Seefurth said, “A very close second is the original pizza beer pizza crust. Everyone eats. Not everyone drinks. And our new beer taco mix is doing off-the-charts sales at the Lincoln Park Whole Foods, where it may overtake the pizza crust mix in the future.”
“We also have gluten-free mixes, which include our second-best selling product, a beer batter fry mix made with rice and tapioca. Giordano’s in St. Charles has been buying our gluten-free mix for a year and a half,” Seefurth said.
Seefurth started out making his pizza beer in his garage, but Milwaukee-based Sprecher brews the batches these days.
Seefurth said he and his wife control distribution in Wisconsin, “where the beer is a staple at Woodman’s Markets and has made a huge splash at Metcalfe’s Markets up there, too. It looks like New Jersey will be our best beer market with the great distributor there. And Hong Kong tells us that people there are in love with it, and will have to wait for re-orders.
“We have an opportunity in Canada with a brewery to possibly license our concept there. Currently, the only province that has our beer is Alberta. We would like to expand to the United Kingdom, and stateside we are also set for Florida and Indiana. If we find investment money, we can move in with the food products where the beer is currently selling,” Seefurth said.
The couple also would like to work with local community colleges and to have the resources to hire culinary students to do cooking demos and classes within stores. And they will continue working with business development programs at Elgin Community College and the College of DuPage.
While their efforts haven’t landed them on Easy Street just yet, with their beer so unusual that it has garnered considerable media attention. Seefurth said that in addition to CNBC, it’s been mentioned on CBS News; by Jay Leno twice on “The Tonight Show”; on “The Today Show” twice; by radio personality Mancow Mueller; featured locally on WLS-TV’s “190 North,” Fox 32 Chicago, and WGN; and stations in Michigan, Wisconsin and in the United Kingdom on two Chef Gordon Ramsay programs and the Christmas Eve episode of the celebrity quiz show, “8 Out of 10 Cats.”
Past the pizza beer concept, Seefurth said, “We have a whole arsenal of foodie beers that we made over the past 15 years that could easily be produced with the right partner in the business or an investor who would love to have fun with unusual, tasty beers.”