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Originally published September 7, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 7, 2007 at 7:36 AM

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Retail Report

Son of Italy dreams up Southern grits in a tube

Fourteen years after Gennaro "Jerry" Mascio spearheaded the idea of pre-cooked polenta in a tube, he has a new concept: pre-cooked grits in a tube.

Seattle Times business reporters

Fourteen years after Gennaro "Jerry" Mascio spearheaded the idea of pre-cooked polenta in a tube, he has a new concept: pre-cooked grits in a tube.

It's all boiled corn in the end — the polenta is yellow, and the grits are white — but Mascio counts on the convenient, ready-to-eat aspect of his products to appeal to people too busy to boil their own.

He'd like to sell pre-cooked steel-cut oatmeal as well, because it takes more than 30 minutes to boil properly, but he hasn't found a way to store it without refrigeration.

Mascio's company, San Gennaro Foods in Kent, produces nearly a quarter-million pounds of polenta a month. Encased in sausage-type tubes called "chubs," they are sold nationwide under the San Gennaro brand and seven private labels.

If you buy pre-cooked polenta in a tube, it probably came from Kent.

Like most people, Mascio prefers it sliced and fried with spaghetti sauce on top. That's a second-day recipe for polenta in Italy, where Mascio was born and where his grandfather owned a pasta company.

Fresh polenta is often rolled out like pizza dough, and each person stakes out a section for their own toppings. Mascio's father liked olive oil and garlic, but other people added tomato sauce, onions, crumbled sausage and cheeses.

Mascio's family moved to Seattle in 1959, when he was 7. His father worked for a local macaroni company, then for Sears.

His mother oversaw the daily operations of a pasta-making operation in the family's basement that bootlegged fresh ravioli at DeLaurenti Specialty Food & Wine in Pike Place Market.

After the feds busted them for not getting Agriculture Department approval, the family went legal with the proper facilities and became a popular fresh pasta brand called Mascio's. They sold the company in 1992, and their son Gennaro went into the polenta business.

His company's name, San Gennaro, is a play on his first name. It also pays homage to the Catholic saint who is the inspiration for feasts and revelry every September in Italy and New York City.

Last year, San Gennaro moved to a more spacious 31,000-square-foot facility in Kent and started cooking up new product ideas. Owned by Mascio, his wife, son and daughter, the company has 13 employees, including Mascio's sister, Anna.

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San Gennaro's pre-cooked grits — called "Southern-style grits" — will be on shelves this year, Mascio said. "Southerners are the only people in this country who eat grits, but we're trying to change that."

Like the polenta, it will retail for about $3 for 16 to 18 ounces. Mascio recommends eating grits with a little butter or cheese, for breakfast or as a side dish.

The dish might even catch on in restaurants, like polenta has. If so, San Gennaro might see a boost in grocery sales, but it probably won't sell much to restaurants. Mascio finds they prefer to boil their own corn.

— Melissa Allison

Tidbits

After nearly two decades in Pioneer Square, Seattle's Snowboard Connection has moved to South Lake Union across from REI in the Alley 24 development. Owners John Logic and Adam Gerken cited "inevitable changes" to the Alaskan Way Viaduct as the reason, saying in a statement they wanted to be "proactive, rather than waiting to find out" about the viaduct's fate. SnoCon was near the viaduct on Alaskan Way. Also, home furnisher Velocity Art and Design has closed its Belltown showroom and plans to open a 3,000-square-foot store Oct. 1 at Alley 24. — AM

Starbucks plans to sell its coffee in single-serve packages for Kraft's "Tassimo" home coffee machines, the Seattle coffee company confirmed this week after Kraft told the Financial Times in London. — MA

Ken and Barbara Davidson , owners of Robins Jewelers in Seattle's Pioneer Square, are retiring after 35 years. They plan to close the jewelry shop by month's end. The Davidsons, in their early 60s, said numerous factors prompted their retirement, including escalating rental rates and increased traffic congestion. No word yet on who'll take their place inside the Grand Central building at First Avenue and Main Street. — AM

The Wine Alley , in Renton's Fairwood Shopping Center, launched an online store at www.thewinealley.com that offers about 600 wines and free delivery for customers in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. Discounts are available for purchases of six bottles or more. — MA

The first West Coast franchise for Theater Xtreme Entertainment Group opened last month in Lynnwood near Highway 99 and 168th Street Southwest. Newark, Del.-based Theater Xtreme sells and installs in-home movie theaters. — AM

New York chef Marcus Samuelsson has teamed with Starbucks to create new coffee blends and pastries for the Seattle company. Joya del Dia Blend and Ubora Blend came from a collaboration between Starbucks Master Blender Andrew Linnemann and Samuelsson, who co-owns a Scandinavian restaurant in Manhattan called Aquavit. The pastries are a chocolate cinnamon bread and caramelized apple pecan coffee cake meant to complement the new coffee blends. — MA

Redmond power-toothbrush maker Ultreo recently announced a partnership with drugstore.com of Bellevue in hopes of expanding its online sales. The Ultreo toothbrush uses "ultrasound energy to transform normally inactive bubbles into pulsating bubbles for an incredible, long-lasting feeling of clean. It's available online at www.drugstore.com for $169.99. Ultreo began selling the toothbrush in February at dental offices and on its website, www.ultreo.com. — AM

Sales of Zipfizz , the powdered energy-drink mix, jumped more than 25 percent in the Seattle market after a TV ad blitz this summer, the Mill Creek company said. Zipfizz comes in citrus, berry, pink lemonade and orange soda flavors. The company also sells a 4-ounce serving called Zipfizz Liquid Shot and Immune Fizz, which has multivitamins and electrolytes. — MA

Drugstore.com has paired with AreYouGame.com of San Francisco to sell more board, card and electronic games on its website, in time for the 2007 holiday season. — AM

Washington wines gained more accolades this month, with Sunset magazine naming Bob Betz of Betz Family Winery in Woodinville its "Winemaker of the Year." The current issue of Robert Parker's Wine Advocate gave scores of 90 points or more to 164 Washington wines, nearly double the number scoring that high during its last review of Washington wines in spring 2006. — MA

Washington state's Main Street Program will hold a daylong seminar this month for businesses interested in capturing tourist dollars and getting more out of their marketing money. The workshop takes place Sept. 19 in Yakima and Sept. 20 in Edmonds. The cost is $45 and pre-registration is required. For more information, go to www.downtown.wa.gov, or call 360-725-4026. — AM

Retail Report appears Fridays. Melissa Allison covers the food and beverage industry. She can be reached at 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com. Amy Martinez covers goods, services and online retail. She can be reached at 206-464-2923 or amartinez@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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Retail Report is a look at the trends, issues and people who makeup the dynamic and versatile retail sector throughout the Puget Sound region. Every Friday with Melissa Allison and Amy Martinez. Send tips or comments to mallison@seattletimes.com or amartinez@seattletimes.com.

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