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La Pasta

Passion for the noodle

Unexpected twists have lined La Pasta's forward path. Alessandro Stortini has guided it to where it is today: a mainstay of numerous farmers' markets with production facilities and retail stores in Wedgewood and Queen Anne. Along with pasta and sauces, they offer other products at their retail locations, all from farmers' market vendors, giving them a way to weather their seasonal nature.

Alessandro didn't plan on a food career, although he was around food all his life. His parents met in Perugia, Italy, where his mom was studying Italian. His father, Giordano Stortini, followed his mother to the U.S. in late 1983, where they married. His father became the head chef at Saleh al Lago, making pasta there for four years. He opened a coffee shop, one of the first to sell Torrefazione, working with Umberto Bizzarri, the founder. The family traveled to Italy each year. In high school, Alessandro went to Italy for three months alone. "I had to speak Italian all the time. When I returned, someone told me a guy named Guglielmo (Willy) Bombaci had moved here and I should meet him. He and his dad were from northern Italy but had been living in Costa Rica. They came to Seattle and opened a restaurant in lower Queen Anne called Nonna Maria. Willy worked the kitchen and his dad was front of the house. It kept Willy so busy that the only way we could spend time together was if I went in and made pasta with him at night. We were making pasta on the same machines my dad had used at Saleh al Lago."

They began selling wholesale to other restaurants, and in 2001-2002 they became part of the University District's farmers' market. Alessandro would help make the pasta and get it to the market. He was also a busser at La Rustica in West Seattle. They wanted him to become a server, but he went to work for Nordstrom in 2003, staying for 3-1/2 years. "I was still making pasta at night for fun. Nonna Maria closed; Willy's dad wanted to do pasta and not a restaurant. They came to me because I spoke English better and had experience in graphic design. I took a month to go to Italy, then returned to work with them. In 2006, I designed the space, got the permitting, then we built out the space in Wedgewood. It was great to work together."

They opened an Italian market in front. "I was against this. They did a hot case with sandwiches using imported ingredients. We charged less than it cost us to make them. Then they brought in coffee, but it wasn't the right place for a coffee shop. By 2007, they were in debt. Willy's dad died in October 2007. I wanted to keep going with the pasta. Willy and I bought out the other two partners. We closed the store immediately and went from six to eight farmers' markets, paying off the debt the first year. We began looking at new sources to make our product, specifically farmers' market vendors. By 2010, we were in 12 markets each week. We were losing wholesale customers, partially due to the economic recession. Restaurants were closing plus there were bigger players like Cucina Fresca. Even without wholesale, being in more farmers' markets, we made the same amount of money in 2010 as we had in 2008."

In February of 2010, Willy's mother in Italy got cancer. At the end of the summer season, Willy went to Italy to help his sister care for their mom. She died the day he arrived. He stayed to help his sister, a single mom with two kids. Alessandro kept moving La Pasta forward, bringing in people to help. Willy is now in Barcelona and he and Alessandro get together each year.

In October 2012, it was time to open the Wedgewood store front again. "I did this for cash flow and since I needed that, I figured other market vendors must need it. We started with maybe 20 products. We carry a lot more now, mostly non-perishables. Seasonally, we'll carry things like mushrooms, truffles, and salad greens." He opened a store in Kirkland's Park Place in March 2015; by November the area was being redeveloped and everyone was out. He took 2016 off growing the company. In 2017, he found the space on Queen Anne for production and retail, opening in August 2018 after lengthy lease negotiations. There, they have a pasta machine that will make short as well as long pasta which will help retail and wholesale sales (they still sell pasta to chef-driven restaurants and fill ravioli with ingredients restaurants give them). Kombucha on tap is available, along with Foraged & Found dried mushrooms, Alvarez pickled beets and asparagus, Middle Fork Roasters coffee, Olsen Farms and Skagit River Farms grass-fed meats, Loki fish, Timber City ginger beer, Got Soup, honey, bee pollen and much more. "We charge what the vendors charge at the markets. You might be able to get the same product at a grocery, but they increase the price; I don't do that."

Alessandro's plan is to increase the number of farmers' markets they do and ultimately have one more retail location. "I've been eyeballing Mercer Island because we've been at that farmers' market since it opened. Having three locations will help us handle the increase in markets we're involved in. We can transfer the feel of the markets to the stores and vice versa. At both, we can help people create entire meals; they don't have to go to a grocery store to get anything. Because we know the products so well, we can help them put things together."

Take some time to look at the products in their stores. You'll find more than you expect.

La Pasta

9118 35th Ave NE
Seattle, WA 98115

1527 Queen Anne Ave N
Seattle, WA 98109

206-408-8578

www.facebook.com/LaPastaSeattle

Connie Adams/February 2019


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