Cugino’s Sausage Co. offers a taste of family tradition
| Florida Times-Union
Christopher Condon has an appetite for good food and a passion to share it with family, friends and strangers alike.
An avid home cook, the former banker inherited his grandfather’s authentic, old-world recipe for Italian sausage — the mainstay of many a meal at his close-knit family’s table.
A taste of his family tradition can be found in each one-pound package of Cugino’s Sausage Co.’s mild, medium or hot Italian sausage. Crafted in small batches, the artisan sausage can be found in restaurants, groceries and the home kitchen of residents throughout Jacksonville.
“The sausage has just been a staple in our family for decades,” Condon said.
Cugino means cousin in Italian. Condon and his cousin Jason Agate founded the sausage company in 2017.
Ever since they were kids about 8 or 9 years old, Condon and Agate wanted to go into business together. Their initial business plan to become long-haul truckers faded over the years.
As adults, Condon became a banking executive while Agate built a career as an accountant specializing in tax preparation. Meeting for coffee every Friday to shoot the breeze, the cousins revived their childhood dream of going into business together.
“It seemed like the same day we both said it. That we wanted to do sausage and carrying on our family legacy. And it started there,” Condon said of Cugino’s Sausage Co.
“We didn’t know how we were going to do it, we just knew we were going to do it … We were starting something that meant something to us,” the Jamestown, N.Y., native said.
Family gatherings with his parents, Nicholas Jr. and Terry Condon, along with aunts, uncles, and cousins were weekly events as Condon grew up.
“We grew up with Sunday dinner at great-grandma’s — sauce, sausage, and everyone was there. Those were the best times,” he said.
His grandfather, Nicholas Condon Sr., always made the sausage. His recipe is a family treasure and touchstone. The family has been making his grandfather’s sausage for about 50 years.
“We’d be together with our fathers, be together with our grandfather, and make the sausage. We’ve kept the same way that we made the sausage at our houses to how we do it today,” said Condon, who learned to cook by watching his great-grandmother and grandmothers.
Cugino’s is a traditional Italian sausage made in small batches from an authentic, old world-style recipe.
“My grandfather was of the old school so we use red wine when we make it,” said Condon, noting they don’t use additives, preservatives or fillers in their sausage. “I wanted to keep the recipe 100 percent to him.”
The artisan sausage, Condon said, is made from fresh ingredients ranging from 100 percent top-cut pork to fresh spices, red wine and natural casings.
It’s produced at a mom-and-pop facility in Tampa. Frozen and vacuum-sealed immediately, it’s brought to Cugino’s small headquarters and distribution center in an office park south of Shad Road in Mandarin.
Their first batch was 500 pounds, but now they are selling a couple of thousand pounds a month, he said,
“I’m 49 and was a banker for 30 years and my passion has always been cooking. I love to cook. I love to be in a kitchen. I love watching chefs take our sausage and create something delicious that you never thought of,” Condon said.
Catullo’s Italian is among several Jacksonville restaurants serving Cugino’s Italian sausage. The restaurant at 1650-2 S. San Pablo Road was among the first to put the sausage on the menu
“The decision for us to use Cugino’s was really easy,” said Carl Catullo, co-founder with his brother, Dave, of the popular Italian restaurant known for its fresh pasta. The brothers have known Condon’s family since childhood because they attended the same church, he said.
“They make sausage the way their grandfather used to in his basement, and it’s of the absolute highest quality,” Catullo said.” We pride ourselves in using the best ingredients to serve food that people will enjoy, and in our opinion, Cugino’s is unmatched.”
Catullo’s Italian mainly uses Cugino’s ‘medium’ sausage because “it’s got enough ‘bite’ to it and fantastic flavor,” he said.
“We love the ‘hot’ sausage as well but we know many people will find it too spicy. Although we do use it occasionally for specials. It also doesn’t hurt that they’re also of Italian descent,” Catullo said of the two families’ common heritage.
Other restaurants with Cugino’s sausage incorporated into their menu include Toscana Little Italy, 4440 Hendricks Ave., Charlie’s Diner at 8929 Philips Highway, Cafe Genovese, 1515 County Road 210 in St. Johns, and Jax Bread Co, at 8380 Baymeadows Road, said Caitlin Zalmanoff, who handles social media, marketing and event scheduling.
So far, Cugino’s sausages are sold at a half-dozen Jacksonville-area Winn-Dixie groceries including stores at 10915-122 Baymeadows Road and 11701-10 San Jose Blvd. — both in Jacksonville; 290 Solana Road in Ponte Vedra Beach, 1545 Clay County Road 220 on Fleming Island; and 1900-1 Park Ave, in Orange Park.
The sausage also can be purchased online via the company’s website. The retail price generally ranges from $8.99 to $6.49 per pound depending if the grocery is having a sale, Zalmanoff said
As serious as he is about sausage making, Condon also boasts a dry wit and penchant for invoking humor as he extolls the virtues and versatility of Cugino’s sausage.
Condon sings — literally — the sausage’s praises on the company’s Facebook page. A recent video snippet features Condon singing his sales pitch into a sausage speared on a fork to resemble a microphone.
“When you’re as proud of your sausage as we are, you always want to show it off! Whether you’re slinging it or singing to it,” he said of the mini-music video.
Ultimately, Condon hopes to expand the company’s menu. He’d like to be able to offer his family’s homemade sauce, meatballs, and traditional desserts such as cannolis, pizzelle — a delicate Italian waffle cookie — and powdered sugar-dusted Italian wedding cookies.
His short-term goal, however, is written on a wooden chalkboard-like sign in a storage room at the Cugino’s office.
“Welcome to the Sausage Kingdom” reads the neatly printed sign. Nearby, Styrofoam shipping boxes arranged into a make throne.
Smilin, Condon concedes that he strives to be the “sausage king” of Jacksonville.
“I want sausage king on my tombstone, he joked recently while cooking and serving sausages during an Octoberfest-style special event at Hyperion Brewing Co. in historic Springfield.
All kidding aside, he said, Cugino’s Sausage is all about family. The recipe is just one part of his grandfather’s legacy.
“It’s just that thing of family and having that belief in them,” Condon said. “What I try to do every day is keep my grandfather’s name … my dad’s name. All of it to the highest standard possible,” Condon said.