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Zachary Dean’s Italian: Made with love

Dec 3rd, 2014 | Category: Food

by Jessamyn Tuttle

When Kevin Conzo lost his six-year-old son Zachary Dean, killed in a car accident on Chuckanut Drive last spring, he wasn’t sure what to do next. After two months back at work after the tragedy he found himself asking, “What am I going to do with my life?” He left his job to figure it out.

“I started making cannoli,” he said.

Having moved to Bellingham from Boston in 2010, Conzo missed good cannoli and decided the only way to get them was to make them himself. He started a Facebook group called Conzo Cannoli and began selling his creations, then decided to try cooking some Italian family-style meals for people to heat up at home. It was a hit.

Freshly made cannolis pictured. Local products used in his kitchen include Fairhaven Flour Mill flour and meats from Matheson Farms. COURTESY PHOTO

Freshly made cannolis pictured. Local products used in his kitchen include Fairhaven Flour Mill flour and meats from Matheson Farms. COURTESY PHOTO

With the support of his wife Bonnie, he began looking for a commercial kitchen to start a full-time catering business. A space at the Bellingham Yacht Club was available to lease as of October 1, a meaningful date for Conzo.

“It would have been Zach’s 7th birthday,” he said.

He renamed the business Zachary Dean’s Italian for his son, and after a big kickoff party they opened for business on Oct. 2. “Things grew from there,” he said.

While the catering business is already booking up for big events like New Year’s Eve and June weddings, they specialize in single-family meals. “We consider your family dinner an event,” Conzo said. With dishes like lasagna, ziti, eggplant parmesan or spaghetti and meatballs, plus bread and salad, delivered to the customer’s door, it’s designed to make it easy to get dinner on the table.

There are already plans in the works to expand the business. Conzo is looking at spaces near the farmer’s market where he can move his kitchen once the original lease runs out, plus add an eat-in dining area. They’re also kicking off a new offering called “full coverage,” where they not only deliver the prepared food to the client’s home, but they set the table, lay out the dinner, and come back for the dishes afterwards.

Conzo’s food is casual and family oriented, but he believes in using the best possible ingredients. “If I could grow it all myself, if I could milk the cow myself, I would,” he said. Given the impossibility of that, Conzo hired a Food and Community Coordinator, Matt Hilliard, whose job (besides occasionally helping in the kitchen) is to find local food sources and create connections with farmers. He goes to the farmer’s market every Saturday, tours farms and seeks out ingredients as locally as possible. Conzo boasts that his lasagna is made almost entirely with local products, with Fairhaven Flour Mill’s flour in the pasta, Twin Brook Creamery milk in the handmade ricotta, and meat from Matheson Farms. The only thing missing is the tomatoes, which they opened too late in the season to get this year.

“You’re gonna get a dish delivered to your door where all the ingredients came from 30 miles,” he said. “You know the people who grow it, you know the people who are making it.”

While sourcing this way can be expensive, he’s willing to cut into his profits to make a point. “High quality ingredients should be the standard, not the exception.”

As the business continues to grow, Conzo has found that people in the community remember his son’s passing.

Owner Kevin Conzo (third from left) with some of the staff outside their office on Cornwall Avenue in Bellingham. PHOTO BY JESSAMYN TUTTLE

Owner Kevin Conzo (third from left) with some of the staff outside their office on Cornwall Avenue in Bellingham. PHOTO BY JESSAMYN TUTTLE

“To see something positive come out of a tragedy…gives people a sense of conclusion,” Conzo said. “You want your kids to make their mark on the world. Zachary made his mark with everyone around him. He was such a gentle, loving soul.”

He wants his business to continue to live up to the principles his son lived by. “Everyone’s a brother, sister, friend…that’s the standard I’m holding myself to,” he said. “My son’s name is on there. I deal with everyone the way he would, with love.”

Zachary Dean’s Italian offers their menu and other information online at www.zacharydeansitalian.com. They can be reached at (360) 927-5023, and are based at 1201 Cornwall Ave., Suite 104 in Bellingham. 

 Published in the December 2014 issue of Grow Northwest

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