Photos by Adam Detour
On most weekday afternoons, Jane Ciccone can be found in front of a vintage Wolf stove in the kitchen of the Central Congregational Church, just blocks from the charming bustle of downtown Newburyport, MA. Jane is the Co-Founder of Onesto Foods (pronounced oh-NEST-oh) and uses the church’s modest facilities to bake, of all things, crackers. Since August of 2014, Onesto has steadily been making a name for itself using only the highest-quality ingredients to create, as Jane says, “unexpected”-tasting artisan crackers—just like their place of origin. Onesto today produces and ships more than 225 cases or 2,700 bags per week to specialty shops throughout the Northeast.
As the heart and soul of the company, it is no surprise that Jane chose the name Onesto, which means honest in Italian, to brand her culinary endeavor. Jane radiates a genuine warmth and goodness that comes through in person and in her baking. She credits the name to her time spent abroad in Italy during her junior year in college. Purposely saving up her electives, she took as many cooking classes as possible while there. As one of seven children in an Franco-Italian family, food had played an essential role in her upbringing, but it was only through her studies overseas that she realized all food was not created equal. “I had an epiphany. I learned the art of ‘less is more’ with food if you have really good ingredients,” says Jane, “Food made fresh, by hand, with the best ingredients, not only tastes better, but actually makes you feel better.”
Jane began thinking of food as a vehicle through which she could serve others by nourishing their bodies and minds. When she and her husband, and Onesto Co-Founder, Jesse, started a family, this mindset took on a new sense of urgency. Like many new parents, she paid increased attention to what was in her family’s food, and was shocked at the levels of chemicals and additives she found. Rather than sitting still, she took action by focusing her efforts and creative energy on finding healthier food options that her children would eat and enjoy. The results made for some rather unconventional recipes. “One year for my son Zachary’s birthday I made quinoa cupcakes,” she laughs. “And they were a big hit!” Her family’s support and accepting palates strengthened her commitment and gave her the confidence to expand her personal vision of food into the business arena.
A teacher by training, Jane’s big break came teaching cooking classes to some young customers. For more than five years, she shared her love of wholesome foods and recipe making with toddlers and their parents at a family learning center where she brought her son Zachary when he was a youngster. Soon after that, she began teaching healthy cooking to small groups of mothers in private homes. Through these interactions, she discovered the many misconceptions associated with healthy food alternatives. “Parents think they need to have a farm in their backyard in order to put food made with good ingredients on the table,” says Jane. “Healthy eating is perceived as inconvenient and unsustainable.” For her, debunking this myth through her teaching was not service enough. A go-getter by nature with entrepreneurism in her blood (her parents and three of her siblings all own their own businesses) she decided to create a product that she “would feel good about feeding to my kids.”
And it was because of her kids that Jane decided to try her luck with crackers. “My kids loved snacking—they loved hummus and dips and cheese and crackers—and I was not really jazzed about what was on the 22 edibleboston.com grocery shelves,” she says. She noticed people would often bring brownies and cookies to parties and events, but no one ever arrived with freshly baked crackers. With an eye on reversing this trend, Jane made it her mission to develop the right cracker recipe, one that would live up to her own high standards and the Onesto name.
After months of experimenting with various ingredients and conducting countless blind taste tests with family members and cooking students (yes, even the toddlers), Jane launched the Onesto artisan cracker line. Available in four varieties: Sea Salt, Rosemary, Hint of Cinnamon, and Ancho Chile, the crackers are all made by hand using only non-GMO ingredients void of toxins such as bleached sugars, preservatives, and partially hydrogenated oils. Despite being gluten, dairy, and preservative free, they have a clean, savory taste that delicately balances the natural flavors and textures of almond, tapioca and sorghum flours (sourced from Bob’s Red Mill) with the richness of pure extra-virgin olive oil shipped directly from Italy. Packaged in eco-friendly, re-sealable bags lined with recycled corn, Onesto crackers can stay fresh for months.
Consistent with Jane’s values and those of her brand, where the crackers are sold has always been as important as how they are made. From the beginning, she has targeted local specialty stores and restaurants who, like her, believe in the importance of making meaningful human connections and improving the human condition through food. “I love to shop where I personally know the owners and they know me—they know my tastes and interests,” says Jane. “To maintain the integrity of the Onesto mission of bringing people together through products made from great ingredients, I believe it is critical to partner with smaller, mom-and-pop distributers. Given how new the crackers are, it is important to be in places where people are talking about them.” And people are definitely talking. Eight months ago, these creations were in just a handful of stores in and around Newburyport where the Ciccones were regulars. Now, they are sold in over 75 retail shops throughout Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont, as well as online at www.onestofoods.com. “It has been a phenomenal year,” says Jane, with a deep sense of gratitude in her voice. “The response to the crackers has been amazing. Stores and individuals now seek us out versus the other way around. “
With orders on the rise, Jane now allows herself to think of a world beyond crackers. “My husband and I have a standing Saturday morning meeting—before the kids are awake. Lately, we have been talking more and more about what our next move will be. I hope to branch out into other products—new products that nourish and bring people together and that I would feel good about serving to my children,” says Jane. Of late, she has been tinkering with recipes for items that lend themselves to entertaining, such as dips and spice rubs. All signs point to these new tastes being available on select shelves at some point in the near future.
Through her unwavering commitment to the belief that good food really does matter, Jane Ciccone has managed to break into the ultra-competitive food industry. Given that brands are as much about the people and passion behind them as the products themselves, the outlook for Onesto honestly looks bright. Jane would not want it any other way.
Available online at onestofoods.com and at retail stores throughout the area.
This story appeared in the Summer 2015 issue.