“The orders kept coming—and they haven’t stopped”: How one pasta-maker’s Covid side hustle became a booming business
Pasta has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My dad’s family is Italian, and growing up, all of us—my dad, my sister and my cousins—gathered together every Sunday at my aunt’s home in Brantford. The house had three kitchens: an immaculate and rarely used one upstairs, a casual kitchen on the main floor where my nonna could often be found hand-rolling pasta, and a production kitchen in the basement. There was also a a setup in the garage to make sauce. There was plenty of food and homemade wine at those suppers, but pasta was always the main event. Pasta has always meant home and family to me, but I never expected to make a business out of it.
I went to Seneca College for fashion business management, and was working as an administrative assistant at Harry Rosen and as an assistant stylist for Driven magazine when I moved to London, England. I was hoping to get into women’s styling, but first I needed just any job. By chance, I landed the role of kitchen manager of Sager + Wilde, not realizing it was one of the city’s coolest wine bars. Over the next three years I worked in a few different cafés and bars. By the time I moved back to Toronto, I was no longer interested in pursuing a career in fashion—I wanted to work in the restaurant industry.
I did a quick stint as a line cook at Buca Yorkville in 2015, then went on to hone my skills at Midfield Wine Bar. In my spare time, I experimented with pasta-making at home, cooking dinners for my roommates and friends. I know I fed them some really terrible food in the beginning—I had no idea what I was doing. I tried different dough recipes I found in cookbooks and on YouTube, trying to find the perfect mix of ingredients. No real Italian has their dough recipe written down, so asking my aunt wasn’t much help. I’d always hear the same thing from her: “I don’t know, use one egg per person and as much flour as you need to make it right.” There were no measurements or clear instructions to know when it was good, when it was ready. “You just know,” she would say.
At first, I didn’t even realize that there are two main types of dough: an egg dough for long noodles and stuffed pastas, and a semolina-and-water dough for hand-rolled pastas. As a result, my hand-rolled pastas refused to keep their shape. I made fresh stuffed pasta and piled it all onto a plate, not realizing they would glom together into one big noodle mass. But I kept on it—trying dough with more egg, less egg—to find recipes I liked.
I started cooking pasta professionally in 2017 at Alimentari in Roncesvalles. Later that year, I moved to Montreal to work as a pasta cook at Lawrence, a restaurant in the city’s Mile End neighbourhood, where I got to practise making all kinds of pasta shapes. In 2018, I moved back to Toronto and became the pasta chef at Woodlot. But in early March, it went out of business. I had just started looking for a new job right before Covid hit. I had managed to pick up a few shifts at Paris Paris but then the government announcement was made—restaurants closed and we were all sent home. So, with the extra free time on my hands, I did what I always do: I made pasta. But this time, I made a post on my Instagram account offering to sell and deliver fresh noodles to anyone interested.
Local wine experts Nicole Campbell and Krysta Oben—otherwise known as the Grape Witches—took notice. They said if I put together a menu including prices they would post it on their Instagram account. By the next morning, I had 20 orders. I thought that would be it but the orders kept coming—and they haven’t stopped.
And that’s how Pasta Forever was born. I slowly transformed the second floor of my Parkdale home into my workspace. My stepdad made me a wooden board specifically for pasta making and it takes up my entire kitchen. I’ve amassed multiple shelves to store all my dry goods and I recently ordered a separate fridge for all the ingredients that I now buy in bulk. I even bought a new bike so I can deliver all the orders. And—after all my deliveries are done for the day—I teach pasta-making classes over Zoom.
When I was working in restaurants, I would suggest that we experiment with different pasta shapes, but I was often shot down by head chefs. They said such shapes would take too long to make, or they weren’t popular compared to the sure-fire hits like gnocchi, tortellini or spaghetti. Now that I run my own kitchen, I can do whatever I want—flower ravioli filled with sweet pea, ricotta and mint; ornate corzetti; and double ravioli. I expanded my menu to included meal kits, focaccia, different sauces, specialty butters and snacks. My personal favourite combo is a tomato-and-butter sauce that’s a riff on Marcella Hazan’s famous recipe, over hand-rolled cavatelli or trofie. It’s simple but so comforting.
I’ve been lucky these past six months. My family and friends are all healthy, and I was able to see them all at a safe distance over the summer. Pasta Forever is growing, which is great, though there are still times when I get anxious. But making pasta is not only my business, it’s also my way of relaxing. I put on a podcast or some music and keep my mind and hands busy. I truly love what I do. Making pasta in a restaurant used to be my dream, but now Pasta Forever is my plan and I hope to one day have my own production kitchen or storefront. I have no intention of going back to working for someone else.
I get around 50 orders—ranging from $20 to $200—each week. One customer always sends me photos of the meals she makes with my kits, telling me how much she enjoyed them. Another told me that she looks forward to a meal kit every Friday night, because it’s a nice meal at home that doesn’t require much effort. It gives me that same feeling I got at my family’s Sunday dinners, of people being brought together by good food.
I don’t make my family’s pastas. I do a lot of things that aren’t traditional, like Ontario sweet corn agnolotti or caramelle pasta filled with roasted beets. If my nonna was still around, I can bet she’d roll her eyes and show me how it should be done, but I also know she would be proud.
—As told to Ishani Nath