Profiles of Innovation
Built from scratch: The 30-year legacy of Michael Angelo's Gourmet Foods
It all started in a 400-square foot kitchen in a bad location, where “the Pac-Man machine grossed more in a day than the restaurant did,” recalls Michael Angelo Renna of the humble beginnings that started a 30-year legacy in frozen food products.
Renna, founder of Michael Angelo’s Gourmet Foods, was a young man without a college degree, helping his mother at the family restaurant when innovation struck.
“I came up with an idea of packaging meals and then taking it to the stores,” he says. For Renna, packaging meals was a way to give his family’s quality food the recognition it deserved — recognition that a tiny restaurant (in a bad location) couldn’t.
"""Everybody else in my industry, they produce long, long runs and put it in warehouses. It's against the way we came to market."- Michael Angelo Renna
Renna worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week to get Michael Angelo’s off the ground. He would sleep on a bench in the restaurant as he waited for the fresh meals to freeze, then he would load them into his own car and deliver them to markets around town.
“It was always about moving forward,” he says. With determination and elbow grease, Renna transformed the tiny kitchen project into an Austin-based food empire. “Michael Angelo's starts in a little 400 square-foot restaurant and now lives in a 132,000 square foot highly automated… massive big kitchen,” he states proudly.
Though now an empire housed in an industrial kitchen, Michael Angelo’s Gourmet Foods still has family at its center. The meals — Eggplant Parmesan, Meat Lasagna, Chicken Piccata, Calzones — all started with his mother's recipes. She still works on recipes at Michael Angelo’s, and Renna’s brother is also involved in the business.
Renna's Italian heritage also plays an important role in the Michael Angelo’s business model. The meals start with fresh ingredients and processes that are usually overlooked in the frozen food industry. “I have to pick up the ingredients, bring [them] in, produce the meals and send them back out. And I do this all within a day — very unique.”
“As an entrepreneur, you get to create — I created a lot of different things that did not exist in an industry,” Renna says of his innovative production model. Whereas competitor’s products may be packaged months before they hit the shelves, Michael Angelo’s meals travel from the kitchen to the freezer in just a few days. “Everybody else in my industry, they produce long, long runs and put it in warehouses. It's against the way we came to market."
Long hours in kitchens big and small have paid off for Michael Angelo Renna. From scratch, he's built a line of “prepared meals” that, after 30 years, are still bringing a unique approach (and taste) to the frozen food industry.