The story of Kozy Shack® Pudding is the essence of the American Dream. Its founder, Vincent “Vinnie” Gruppuso, didn’t have a business degree. And like many of his kind, he proved that he didn’t need one. With just a vocational degree and New York City street smarts, he started Kozy Shack Enterprises in 1967.
Vinnie wasn’t always a pudding peddler; he started out as bread delivery man. One of the businesses he delivered to was the Cozy Shack deli on Seneca Avenue in Brooklyn. The deli was known for selling sandwiches to drivers at the bus depot across the street. But Vinnie knew them for a different reason: pudding. After trying Cozy Shack’s rice pudding, Vinnie became such a big fan that he started selling it off the back of his delivery truck.
It was that good.
He soon realized he was on to something. After buying the rice pudding recipe, swapping the “C” for a “K” in “Cozy” and filing a bunch of not-so-tasty paperwork, Kozy Shack Enterprises was born on June 7, 1967—the birthday of Vinnie’s second daughter, Lisa (now Lisa Salvo).
From bread truck to club warehouse
Making the jump from selling pudding off a delivery truck to selling it nationwide takes hard work, perseverance and the ability to problem-solve on-the-fly. Vinnie had all these qualities. He hustled his way into retail markets, which proved to be a great catalyst for growth. Retail remains Kozy Shack’s largest outlet.
But there’s another outlet that fueled Kozy Shack’s success. Vinnie happened to know a man by the name of Sam Walton. That’s right, the Sam Walton, founder of Walmart and Sam’s Club.
“Vinnie personally went to every opening of every Sam’s store,” says Vinnie’s son-in-law Michael Caridi. “He said, ‘We’re following this supercenter stuff—that’s our next future.’”
At Sam’s Clubs, Costcos, BJs and other club stores, the Gruppusos themselves invited people to try Kozy Shack® Pudding. These were the days before club store members could ritualistically spend their Saturdays cobbling together a free lunch from free samples in every aisle.
“The great thing about doing these demos is, I always had such great confidence that someone would come up, try our product and it would be ‘love at first bite,’” says Joanne Caridi, Vinnie’s eldest daughter.
The novel idea of giving shoppers a taste of the pudding proved to be successful. Club stores paved the way for nationwide distribution across the United States and Canada.
From stove to store
Today, we make the Original Recipe Rice Pudding just like we always have, by mixing rice, egg, salt and milk in a large kettle. After it cooks for about an hour, we add sugar and simmer before adding vanilla and other natural flavors.
“Each kettle is taste-tested before it’s put into cups to ensure integrity,” says Michael Coyle, Kozy Shack plant manager. “After thorough sensory and taste tests, the pudding is packaged and is ready to hit the market.”
That’s the way it was done in the beginning when Vinnie started making big batches of pudding in Queens. It didn’t change when production moved to the Mineola and Hicksville facilities on Long Island or with the opening of a plant in Turlock, Calif. And it didn’t change when Land O’Lakes, Inc. purchased Kozy Shack Enterprises from the Gruppuso family in 2012.
From one family to another
When Vinnie passed away in 2007, his daughters and son-in-law took over the day-to-day business operations. Eventually the time came, as it does for many family businesses, to look for a buyer that could take the business to the next level. The Gruppuso family wanted to find a company that would continue the tradition that Vinnie began.
When Land O’Lakes, Inc. welcomed Kozy Shack into our family nearly five years ago, we wanted to make sure that we did it right. We’ve worked to stay true to the recipes and the fun, quirky advertising that is the heart of Kozy Shack.
“We’ve tried to uphold the original vision that Vinnie had when he bought the recipe,” says Martin Abrams, Kozy Shack marketing director. “Our team is working very hard to expand the brand so everyone can enjoy the absurdly delicious taste of Kozy Shack® Pudding.”
We’ve also worked to stay true to Vinnie’s philosophy of constant improvement: “Do it right today and better tomorrow.”
“That’s really all we want Land O’Lakes to do with Kozy Shack,” says Vinnie’s daughter, Lisa. “Keep it true—true to its roots.”
Happy 50th Birthday, Kozy Shack! You look great. Let’s raise our pudding cups to another fifty years of great people, great memories and, of course, great pudding. Cheers!