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Buckeye Built: Dei Fratelli keeps roots planted in Ohio, selling canned tomato products across US

Posted: 12:05 PM, Nov 15, 2019
Updated: 2019-11-15 17:51:58-05
Buckeye Built: Dei Fratelli

NORTHWOOD, Ohio — From Cleveland to Columbus and Toledo to Cincinnati, Ohio is packed with companies who call the Buckeye State home.

As part of the News 5 Cleveland Buckeye Built series, reporter Meg Shaw went behind the scenes of a canning company in Northwest Ohio: Dei Fratelli.

History

Dei Fratelli first planted its roots in Northwest Ohio in 1923. The Hirzel Canning Company was founded by Carl Hirzel and from there the Dei Fratelli brand emerged.

It was in 1923 when Hirzel began growing cabbage to sell sauerkraut. In his second year of growing, he added tomatoes to his crop. In 1925 Hirzel and his wife began canning the tomatoes and selling them in local grocery stores.

Fast forward 93 years and still the Dei Fratelli brand stands even stronger today. The company now sells a line of products including canned tomatoes, sauces, salsas and more—including sauerkraut.

All in the Family

Though it's been nine decades since its founding, the company is still owned and operated by the Hirzel family. Stephen Hirzel is the fourth-generation President and CEO.

Stephen has been involved with the company since he was a child.

"I actually grew up in the house right in front of this plant," Stephen said, referencing the Northwood manufacturing plant.

Stpehen called his role in the company a honor. He also credited his great grandfather, the company's founder, for bringing his family together so many years ago.

"He [Carl Hirzel] brought all of our cousins, my cousins, together. We come together, we work together, we do family events together. It became like many brothers and sisters. That's magical," Stephen said.

Stephen isn't the only fourth generation family member working for Dei Fratelli. He said other family members work and manage the two other Dei Fratelli manufacturing plants in Northwest Ohio.

"Knowing that you can count on and trust your family members is really cool," he said.

Stephen said Dei Fratelli currently has some fifth generation Hirzel family working within the company.

Ohio grown

Dei Fratelli takes pride in their Ohio roots.

"I want to say half of what we get is grown within 10 to 15 miles of one of our facilities. Very local," he said.

The tomato company works with farmers scattered throughout Northwest Ohio as well as a few farmers in Michigan. The seeds are germinated in a greenhouse before being planted in the fields.

Once the tomatoes are ready for harvest, they're taken to one of Dei Fratelli's three manufacturing facilities in Northwest Ohio. Hours later, they're cleaned, sorted and packaged.

A process that happens fairly quickly, Hirzel said, so the tomatoes can remain as fresh as possible.

“A lot of people don’t appreciate how fresh tomatoes are in a can. But, truly, they’re harvested ripe and we’re converting them and preserving them so all of the nutrients and everything is going to stay there," he said.

Hirzel also said this is how they maintain great quality, ensuring their customers are going to buy a great product every time.

“Quality is what people want. Quality sells and that’s number one.”

At the end of the day, Hirzel said, it's about spending time together around a meal.

“It’s tough. People don't have time to get together as a family, but when they do, we want them to have a great food experience. It’s part of our purposes, we feed people.”

Future

Hirzel said already there are some fifth generation of Hirzel family members working for the company. He hopes they can carry on the legacy of the company for the next 100 years.

For more information about Dei Fratelli,click here.

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