Sauce Anna Lisa

Lisa at the Farmers MarketShe hears the question everywhere she goes: "Are you Anna Lisa?" So much so that Sauce Anna Lisa founder Lisa O'Connell sometimes just answers "yes" even though her scratch-made pasta sauce (with a growing cult of followers) is actually named for Lisa's grandmother, Anna.

Energetic, raven-haired Lisa splits her time between home, where she's busy with her new son William, and a local kitchen where she creates slow-simmered batches of her pasta sauce, 30 gallons at a time. Her husband, Buddy, is often on hand to assist with the heavy lifting. Everything is made and bottled by hand using fresh, local ingredients whenever possible. Onions, 20 pounds at a time, are chopped by hand while a fan blows their tear-inducing fumes from Lisa's eyes. Garlic – lots and lots of it – is peeled and minced by hand, too. "It should be called Garlic Sauce," she laughs, "that's how much garlic is in it."

What led Lisa to create Sauce Anna Lisa was her own picky palate. Having grown up in her grandmother's kitchen and restaurant (the former Woodland Inn in northern Minnesota), Lisa developed a taste for the flavor only slow cooking could create. "I just assumed everyone ate like that," she says of the rich home-cooked foods of her childhood. When asked why she ultimately began making her own sauce she says simply, "I couldn't find a sauce I liked."

While friends had been telling her for years to bottle her recipe (actually her grandmother's), the harassment became serious after her wedding. She learned how to can at home so she could bottle sauce to give as favors to her wedding guests. They insisted she go pro. Soon after, her first trip to the farmer's market further clarified her future. She sold out all of the 10 cases she had brought with her – and quickly. "I thought I'd sell a few and have some left for the next month or so. I was like, 'Are you kidding me?'" She found herself back in the kitchen that night to make more for the very next day.

Ultimately it was Kowalski's shoppers, with their taste for great local artisan-crafted foods, that got her into the markets. "People at the farmer's markets were always saying, 'Where can I find you?' and 'You should be in Kowalski's.'" Taking the hint, she emailed them directly. It wasn't long before Kowalski's was helping guide Lisa to make the modifications to her packaging and labeling that would get Sauce Anna Lisa on their shelves.

Kowalski's shoppers will appreciate that Sauce Anna Lisa is all natural and contains no preservatives or added sugar. "The sweet Vidalia onions, sweet garlic and tomatoes take on a depth and natural sweetness because of the slow-cooking," explains Lisa. Very slow. In fact, each batch takes 6 hours to make, but this saucy food lover wouldn't have it any other way. When asked what she would be doing if she wasn't making sauce, she says emphatically, "This is it! I love it."

You can find Traditional Sauce Anna Lisa and new Spicy Sauce Anna Lisa in the International Foods Aisle in most Kowalski's Markets.