“The story of Luigi Vitelli”
From the Interview to Paolo Vitelli – September 1st 2001 – from the Archives of RAI (Italian Public Television)
The Vitelli family has its origins in the small town of Torre del Greco, on the slopes of Vesuvius, near Naples, Italy. Luigi Vitelli was born in 1851. At the time Torre del Greco was well known for the art of lace and was Italy’s main center for coral craftsmanship. But there was very little other than that, and the large population of the area of Naples had to look for job opportunities overseas. In the 1870’s then, many Italians started emigrating to the USA. Luigi Vitelli is not even 30 years old and not knowing one world of English, left his home town armed with courage and faith and with a little suitcase full of lace and corals. Together with many other Italians, especially from the South, he boarded a ship to New York and crossed the ocean for more than two weeks in difficult conditions. He was quite successful selling handcrafts to wealthy New York residents. But the turning point was when Italy started canning tomatoes at the beginning of 1900. Italian immigrants in New York craved for some good pasta with San Marzano tomatoes sauce, obviously with the traditional basil leaf. Luigi Vitelli was probably the very first person to start importing canned Italian tomatoes to the US. That’s when Vitelli Foods was born in New York: to import “Luigi Vitelli” brand to American customers. Today Vitelli continues to import Italian specialties to a much larger clientele. The story of the Vitelli family is a proof of the sacrifice and the vision of the Italian immigrants but also an example of their persistence and ability to adapt.
“The story of Elvea” – From “Premio Nazionale Mercurio d’Oro” – 1962
The origins of the company “ELVEA” can be traced back to 1885. That year, two brothers Luigi and Francesco Vitelli emigrated into the United States of America from their native village of Torre del Greco. That was one of the greatest surges of immigration into the USA from Italy, especially from the South. Homesick and eager to recreate in their new land the same culinary traditions of their motherland, Italian immigrants demanded more and more imported Italian foods. The Vitelli brothers, initially in the coral craftsmanship business, saw an opportunity and started importing canned tomatoes from Italy. It was hard at the beginning but in a few years the Vitelli brothers had created an efficient distribution network. In the early 1900’s they decided to split. In 1919 Luigi Vitelli went back to Italy and started a small tomato processing plant named “Luigi Vitelli & Sons” in Portici, near Naples, to export his own tomatoes into the USA. In 1921 they moved into a new and very modern facility in Angri, closer to the fields of the prestigious San Marzano tomatoes. By 1923 almost all of the local harvest was processed by Luigi Vitelli factory. The Great Depression in 1929 and the new tariffs made it harder and harder to export into the USA, so the company expanded into new markets which included Europe and North Africa. After World War II, in 1945 the name of the company was changed into “ELVEA” (an acronym for Luigi Vitelli Angri). The company continued to expand and opened another factory in 1959 in the province of Salerno. The brand was selling worldwide and was known for quality and innovation. While part of the Vitelli family in Italy was producing canned tomatoes, the New York based Vitelli family was importing those same tomatoes into the United States, creating one of the first vertically integrated operations in the Italian Food business.
Since 1996 the Vitelli family has been operating as Vitelli Foods and has expanded the line of products to include pasta, beans and other Italian specialties.
Today’s Vitelli is quite different from the Vitelli of 1885 when it served the growing Italian immigrant community in the five boroughs of New York City. Today, products imported by Vitelli can be found in major supermarket chains and distributors throughout the United States. The company is still managed by a member of the Vitelli family, Claudia Vitelli.