Posted on September 19 2018
Author: Michele, Founder of STIFINEFOOD
Growing up I loved two things: Food and Martial Arts. After accomplishing a lifelong dream to learn and practice martial arts and move to China, I decided to explore my other passion. Ever since, I have been building a career in the food and beverage industry.
Well cuisine has always played an important role in my life. As both an Italian and Pugliese (I was born in Puglia – Apulia in English – a region located in the “tacco” heel of Italy), food almost makes our culture and it is even part of how we learn to relate to one another. The most treasure times spent with family and friends are through cooking and sharing meals.
My region is known for its’ olive trees and vegetables rich of flavor—the quality of our foods is like no other, so somewhere in between exploring my culture through food and growing up tasting simple recipes from my family, full of flavor and fresh ingredients, I fell in love with it.
Always fascinated by the innards of things I studied agro-food processing and even became certified as Sommelier. I began to work in the hospitality industry as Food Service Director working in Italy, Switzerland, and the USA.
All those years in the hospitality industry I learned a wealth of knowledge about fine food and fell even more in love with it. Yet, I rarely found the amazing flavors and quality of food that I had growing up. I needed to find a Sapore Tutto Italiano – All Italian Flavor, so I began to branch out of the hospitality industry to open my own business.
At the time, in 2008, I set up my goal: to find food products that had simple high-quality rich flavors that characterize the food I had growing up and make them available anywhere in the world. Somewhere in between me transitioning out of the hospitality industry and jumping onto a new adventure on my own, I found love.
Meeting my wife changed everything for me, it pushed me forward to go explore my entrepreneurial side and opened my company in the USA. She would also shape my perspective on how I would see food, ultimately leading me into opening a 100% vegan business.
Within months of meeting my now wife, I fell in love and wanted to build a life with her. Soon after we met, she began to battle an unknown ailment. Doctor visit after doctor visit no one in Florida could tell us what was wrong. Her normal live turned upside down battling a debilitating chronic illness that no doctor could figure out.
After a year+ of struggling to get a diagnosis, they finally told us she had endometriosis. By the time she was diagnosed she had Stage 4 (severe) endometriosis, she was struggling with pain almost 24 hours a day, she had lost 17 lbs. and food was a main factor in worsening her symptoms.
Unfortunately, at the time very little was known about endo, so there was a lack of medical solutions given to us in Florida. Short after getting married, we went to Italy and she had 8-hour emergency surgery that saved her life, removing most of the endo lesions.
There is still no cure for endo, so there is not a lot of preventative measures for endo lesions from growing back after the surgery. The road to recovery after her surgery had many bumps in the road, food continued to worsen her symptoms and preventive pharmaceutical medicine caused her a rare side effect: a brain embolism that almost took her life.
Through this struggle with her health I was opening my own business beginning to export High quality Italian food products for wholesale in the USA. These first years where so educational for me: While establishing my own food related business we also began to learn about the role food plays in endometriosis. After her embolism we finally found a doctor specialized in endo, and she educated us on the detrimental effects meat and dairy consumption has on endo sufferers. And so, our journey into veganism began.
The more we learned about the health issues that meat and dairy consumption caused my wife the more we worked on transitioning to a plant-based diet. Luckily for us thanks to my sister-in-law, who had been a vegetarian since she was 6 years old (she later became an ethical vegan), we had a lot more knowledge about it than most people—including knowledge about the horrors of animal agriculture.
Moving into a plant-based diet was not easy and one of the biggest struggles was adjusting my taste buds and my idea of what was authentic Italian cuisine without something so Italian as cheese.
Here too, somewhere between learning about the health benefits and animal suffering, I decided to keep my goal, but redirected it to vegan products.
Adding a new goal within in my business model: To help people transition into veganism with products that taste amazing and teach people that even a cuisine a rich as Italian can be veganized: Vegan can still be high quality, delicious, and authentic. We just need to rethink what “authentic” cuisine is and learn to make it cruelty free!
Launched in late 2016, the STI (Sapore Tutto Italiano) FINEFOOD eshop is one of my business ventures that is helping me accomplish my goals (I also opened my company in Europe and continue to explore the vegan Italian food world through different projects).
STIFINEFOOD has now also evolved into a space where I want to share my family’s story, why what we do as business and why we do it is so important to us (a hopeful one: there is still no cure for endo, but my wife has not needed any endo related surgery in 9 years and has regained her quality of life by following a plant-based gluten free diet).
Looking forward to this dialogue!