Summer fun must come to an end. And August is that time when vacation ends and kids go back to school – and back to eating school lunches.
There are few cafeteria lunch items that kids look forward to every year. One of them, the Bosco Stick, is the number one selling school foodservice brand in the Midwest. And it has a cute background story on its name and creation. I learned about it in my research on Cincinnati coneys served in local cafeterias. You can find them not only in Cincinnati area schools, but in schools across 45 states. An entire generation of kids has now grown up on the Bosco Stick. All we had in my day were the boring cardboard-like square pizzas.
Although they’re simple – mozzarella cheese-stuffed breadsticks, brushed with butter and parmesan – they dominate school lunch rooms today. They are served hot so the cheese is gooey, and with a side cup of marinara sauce for dipping. Kids love dipping.
The cheese melts in a way that’s not rubbery, but stretchy. And the dough is light and fluffy, with the chew of a good pizza crust. It’s less messy to eat than a slice of pizza, but has all the desired qualities. They usually come two to an order, not selling for more than $2 or $3 a stick. That’s a price point hard to beat.
Although the sticks found their popularity in school lunchrooms, they have their origin at a Warren, Michigan pizzeria called Bosco’s Carry Out Pizzeria near a high school. It was founded in 1988 by Mark Artinian, and named after St. John Bosco, the patron saint of children, jugglers, and magicians. A number of students from the local high school would come into Artinian’s pizzeria at lunch. He recognized a lack of high quality pizzas in school cafeterias. So, he shut down the pizzeria and turned it into a food-distribution service, launching the first commercially-made frozen stuffed crust pizza in 1995.
When a cheese filled crust fell off a slice of stuffed-crust pizza, the company realized they could make a great breadstick, and the company’s golden goose, the Bosco Stick was born. The company generated $51 million in net revenue in 2013, which amounts to about 85 million Bosco Sticks a year. They are so popular they’ve been made available outside of schools through retailers like Wal-Mart, Meijer, Costco, and Sam’s club. Some kids even put them on their Christmas list.
The company’s mascot, Johnny Bosco, is based on founder Mark as a boy. When Mark Artinian was young, he was a bit of a mischief maker, and his parents would shout “I’m going to send you to the St. John Bosco Home for Boys!” That was apparently a local detention center for wayward boys. Mark’s friends began to call him by that name when they heard his parents shouting at him as he ran out the door – Johnny Bosco – and so the name stuck.
The company says their mascot, Johnny Bosco, looks like a kid who knows how to have fun and he is a symbol of the fun loving kid in all of us. The company wisely uses the cartoony mascot to help kids buy into the brand with stickers, books and all sorts of free sway – brilliant marketing.
In January of 2014, Artinian sold the brand to Arkansas-based food giant Tyson Foods, but the sticks are still manufactured at the original Warren, Michigan, plant.
Since its birth, other versions of the Bosco Stick have been released. There’s an apple-filled version, like a portable pie. And, being on trend, they also have a pretzel stick version, filled with melty cheddar cheese. The company is open to exploring new flavor combinations – so kids might see a breakfast Bosco Stick. My vote is for a pumpkin pie filled stick for Fall!