Happy as a…tomato? ‘Mater lady Liz James believes in the value of a good marinara

Tomato, tom-ah-to? Marinara maker Liz James says, when it comes to her business, it’s the latter. Let’s call the whole thing off! Photo: Amy Jackson Tomato, tom-ah-to? Marinara maker Liz James says, when it comes to her business, it’s the latter. Let’s call the whole thing off! Photo: Amy Jackson

Growing up as one of 10 kids in a Sicilian family, Liz James learned early on about the value of a good marinara sauce. “We had to really stretch the food budget, and marinara was a quick way of creating an easy, wonderful dinner—we put it on everything!” she says.

But what stuck with her most about what she calls her “idyllic childhood” was how having that go-to sauce made it easier for her family to share meals together. When James’ husband died when her children were young, family dinners became especially important to her. “We got together whether it was over peanut butter and jelly or a bowl of pasta,” she recalls. “In spite of going through a terrible loss, we were able to come together as a family.”

And so, four years ago, to help more families “create happiness” by sharing a meal together, the Charlottesville resident bottled her marinara, derived from her family’s recipe, and founded The Happy Tomato.

“It’s pronounced ‘tom-ah-to’ because that’s how my mother always said it,” James explains. And, just like her mother, she wants to streamline dinner with a one-pot meal that can be prepared quickly for everyone in the family—even those with health concerns, she says. James takes pride in the fact that her handmade sauces, which include her marinara, a pizza sauce and pesto (available through Relay Foods, Whole Foods, Rebecca’s Natural Food and other specialty stores), are low in sodium and fat and without added sugar.

James, who often demonstrates recipes at grocery stores using her sauces, is so passionate about her product that she has been known to leave the demo table to help a customer shop. Says James, “I’ll walk the grocery store aisles to help them create a meal, so they have something yummy to put on the table.”

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