Locally Made Sausages Sizzle with Flavor
A Passion for Italy Inspires Kelly Lynn Thomas to Launch Becoming Italian Today
“Anyone can become Italian,” asserts Kelly Lynn Thomas, owner and founder of Becoming Italian Today, familiarly referred to as B.I.T. “It’s about the choices we make.”
Spending time with family and close friends over a long, leisurely meal prepared with fresh and wholesome ingredients, as many Italians do, creates meaningful, lifelong memories. Her love affair with Italy and its food, people, wines and lifestyle inspired Kelly to launch B.I.T., to make and distribute rustic Italian pork sausages to several restaurants and markets in Rhode Island and beyond.
From Rhode Island to Italy and back again
After earning her MBA from the University of Rhode Island, Thomas planned a three-month trip in Italy, which segued into a five-year adventure traveling throughout the country and learning the nuances of winemaking, farming, food production and the language.
Earlier, family trips to visit relatives in Italy had helped nurture her appreciation of Italy and its commitment to culture, community and tradition. Of the dinners she hosted in Italy, where everyone brought different ingredients to make a meal, Kelly says, “It’s not about excess, but about simple, good food, which brings people together.” Eating delicious and natural food that’s been prepared with love enhances your life, she adds.
Thomas grew up witnessing the pleasure her maternal grandmother and mother found in cooking healthy and flavorful meals and in sharing those recipes with family and close friends.
When she was a little girl, she helped her father, Charles Thomas, make her maternal grandmother’s sausage recipes. Over a couple of decades her father tweaked and refined them, based on feedback from family members, who served as taste-testers. During college and after she came back from Italy, she helped her mother, Bertha, with cooking classes for people who wanted to learn Bertha’s cooking secrets.
What’s in the sausages?
B.I.T.’s sausages come from premium pork roasts, purchased through wholesaler Warwick Poultry. Her farm-raised pork is minimally processed and contains no additives, water or preservatives, and all pork sold domestically cannot be treated with hormones, says Kelly.
In leased space at a USDA-approved facility in Wakefield, Kelly, Charles and her brother Greg manually hand-trim dozens of 30- to 40-pound premium pork roasts each week and remove most of the fat and any bone slivers or tough tendons. Once it’s trimmed, they coarsely grind the pork, marinate it in wine and season it with spices such as salt, paprika, black pepper, crushed red pepper, garlic and fennel seed before stuffing it into all-natural hog or all-natural sheep casings. The company makes links, bulk loose sausage meat and skewered sausage pinwheels, all in hot and mild versions. Kelly, who prefers the hot sausages, says, “It’s not too hot; it has a nice heat that comes at the end … it doesn’t overpower your taste buds. You can taste the wine and the spices.”
As every ingredient is listed on her packages’ “clean labels,” purchasers avoid consuming unidentified spices that might trigger allergic reactions, Kelly says. Unlike most pork, chicken and turkey sausages, which Kelly says have 35–55% fat, B.I.T.’s sausages are remarkably lean, with only 10–12% fat. They’re the perfect accompaniment to a kale salad, the lightest cream or tomato sauce, shrimp or vegetables, says Kelly, who describes her sausage as a “well-marinated pork product.”
In the community
Early on, Kelly was selling and directly delivering sausages to as many as 50 restaurants; more recently, she’s pared down her customer list to a handful of venues, including Camille’s on Federal Hill in Providence, Figidini Wood Fire Eatery in downtown Providence, Jo’s American Bistro in Newport and Mews Tavern in Wakefield, as well as a few golf clubs. Distributor Warwick Poultry now handles most deliveries to her restaurant and grocery customers, which include Clements’ Market in Portsmouth, Eastside Marketplace in Providence, McQuade’s Marketplace in Jamestown and Roch’s Fresh Foods in Narragansett and Warwick. In nearby Massachusetts, Harvest Market in Swansea and Lee’s Market in Westport also stock the sausages.
After Figidini Wood Fire Eatery owners Kara and Frankie Cecchinelli sampled B.I.T.’s sausage links, which Kara calls “delicious,” they decided to order both the hot and mild links. The restaurant’s dinner menu showcases the links, which are grilled and served with other items as small plates, says Kara. Figidini Wood Fire Eatery recently added a sausage sandwich to its lunch menu, given how popular the sausages are with customers.
Brendan Reilly, Mews Tavern’s general manager, believes that people appreciate these locally made products for their delicious flavor, low fat and versatility. The restaurant’s menu includes a caramelized onion and sausage pizza, as well as its newest pizza, “Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em,” which is a meat lover’s fantasy, loaded as it is with bacon, brisket and sausage. Other menu offerings featuring B.I.T. sausages are a brisket sandwich with more than half-adozen ingredients and the “Beast Feast,” which includes smoked meats—a half chicken, pulled pork, a B.I.T. sausage link and ribs.
Kelly, effusive, outgoing and peripatetic, connects directly with consumers at supermarkets—a volume outlet for B.I.T., which focuses on making and selling reputable, high-value products.
“We’re just like our customers: We want to have something we can bring home, cook [simply] … and have a wonderful dish that looks beautiful, tastes delicious and is healthy,” says Kelly.
For family-owned Clements’ Market, which prides itself on stocking all-natural products, buying B.I.T.’s products is a great fit, says Rick Fontaine, meat manager. “The quality and the service is far above [that] of many vendors who come in. It’s a very good product … with flavor above any other sausage,” adds Fontaine, who prefers the hot sausage.
Kelly acknowledges that her business wouldn’t be where it is today without the support of her mother, who helps with menu and product development, and her father, brother, friends and customers. On the other hand, her frustration with Rhode Island’s unwillingness or inability to provide support and resources to small businesses that are already in operation was palpable.
“We’re here and adding to the life of a community … but [state government] is not looking at how they can support the small businesses that are here.”
Nevertheless, Kelly remains tireless and passionate about spreading the joys of preparing and eating fresh, simply prepared foods. For the near future, she’s focusing on expansion plans by moving into several other Northeastern states and expanding the product line to include soups, pasta dishes and entrées that incorporate the sausages. In her original business plan for B.I.T., Kelly envisioned making and selling Italian-inspired foods, leading travelers on “behind-the-scenes” personalized tours of Italy and importing and selling Italian specialty food products. Currently, B.I.T. is focused on food production and distribution and Kelly has begun to revitalize her tour business.
“We’re growing with intention, without sacrificing quality or compromising the integrity of the products,” says Kelly.
To learn more about Becoming Italian Today, or B.I.T., visit BecomingItalianToday.com.