In May of 1929, Grazielle Fiore Lotito (Grace) and Cristofaro Lotito (Chris) were both overjoyed at the birth of their sixth (and, to be, last) child, and struggling through what was to be one of America’s most discouraging times, the “Great Depression.” Chris, an Italian immigrant from the city of Bari, was a successful mason and builder, as well as a smart businessman and salesman. Grace, also from Bari, came from a long line of Italian cheese makers. In October of 1929, as the Depression took its toll on the construction industry and the economy, the Lotito Family, consisting of Chris’ mother and father, Grace’s mother, Chris, Grace, and their six children packed up their belongings and left Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, NY. They moved to a large single family home, adjoining a run-down building that was to become the birthplace of the Lebanon Cheese Factory, in Lebanon, New Jersey. Their plan: to utilize Chris’ skill as a salesman and Grace’s talent as a cheese maker to start a factory to manufacture and sell fresh Italian cheeses throughout New Jersey and New York.
Grace and Chris were able to locate the property, which was ideally located along a railroad track and in the heart of farm country. They negotiated a deal with the property owner, Mr. Clark. Chris and Grace would not only rent the property, house, and factory, but they would also refurbish the factory. In exchange, they would receive three months free rent. Over the course of those first three months, Grace worked night and day making fresh ricotta cheese, which Chris would load into his car and travel throughout New York City and New Jersey, securing customers for their quality products. Chris was often gone for days at a time, but, on the occasions when he was home, he refurbished the factory, as promised. Upon the fourth month, instead of paying that first month’s rent, the Lotito’s purchased the property, house, and factory outright – never paying a day’s rent!
Through the hard work of Chris, Grace, and their six children, Lebanon Cheese successfully endured for several decades. Unfortunately, in the late 1940′s, Chris became weakened after a heart attack, and was told by doctors to sell the business and retire. However, the Lotito children, blessed with their parents’ strong work ethic and ingenuity, approached their Mom and Dad with an idea – they would jointly buy the business from their parents. A deal was made, engineered for fairness by Grace, that each child would own an equal share of the business and contribute equally to the business. Over the years, the business continued to thrive; unfortunately, it could not support six families as well as it had once supported one family. Over time, the brothers and sisters elected to go in separate directions, and the remaining siblings bought their shares. Eventually, the youngest child, John, was the sole remaining owner of Lebanon Cheese.
During the next four decades, John successfully grew the business with the help of his wife, Selina, and seven sons. Today, Lebanon Cheese is still run with the same attention to quality as our grandparents and parents insisted upon, and service some of the largest bakeries and pasta companies on the East Coast. Three of John and Selina’s children currently manage the various aspects of the business, all with a great deal of love and respect for the hard work and ingenuity that went into making it a success for over 80 years and three generations.