Nanci Covello marvels when she realizes she’s been making raviolis for over 30 years. Covello started as a child in her grandmother’s kitchen, making pasta every week. “I have always been into cooking from my family, who were always cooking.” she said. “When my grandmother lived with us downstairs she was always cooking, and when we saw my other grandmother who we made raviolis with, she was always cooking, My mom was always cooking. Did I think I was going to be doing this? No.”
Covello’s mother, Maria Nardi, owned Maria’s Bazar cafe in Woodstock, where she made raviolis and pasta by hand every day. Covello, desirous of relocating herself geographically, said she called her mother and told her she wanted a change.
“My mom said, ‘Come here and help me make all these damn raviolis! I can’t keep up!’ So me and my husband quit our jobs and moved here.”
La Bella’s Pasta on Route 28 is the flagship store and home to where they manufacture over 20 varieties of cheese or seafood raviolis, four varieties of cheese tortellini, three egg pastas, 13 flavored pastas, two varieties of ready-to-bake pasta sheets, four styles of gnocchi (including sweet potato and pumpkin) and a host of other different sized and shaped pastas. The products are carried by local grocers, such as Adams Fairacre Farms and at farm markets. They’re also made to order weekly for area restaurants.
La Bella has three full-time pasta-makers manning the machines, cutting, packaging and preparing the final product. The operation starts at 4 a.m. The day of the week determines what type of pasta is made.
Covello showed off their new machine that cranks out 30-foot-long rolls of pasta weighing 45 to 55 pounds from the semolina flour, water and eggs poured into the top. Cheese and spinach pasta is made weekly, but pressed into different shapes, depending on the week. The pasta rolls are then placed into other machines in the shop fitted with different dyes to form the different shapes, including a dedicated gnocchi-making machine.
Mondays mean making pasta fillings, ranging from the conventional four-cheese to more seasonal, such as pumpkin and cheese or jalapeno and cheddar. Tuesdays, raviolis are filled. Wednesdays, the other pastas are made. Pastas are packed into clamshells and sprinkled with cornstarch.
La Bella makes and sells its own sauces to accompany its pastas, like a pesto, or a porcini mushroom sauce. Less traditional pastas such as gluten-free, black bean or squid ink also grace the product list.
Covello said the business was built up slowly over the years, during which farm markets, grocers, wholesalers and restaurants were added to the customer list. Covello said they even acquired the machines in phases, her father and husband traveling to Italy to purchase them.
“Most of the challenges were in the beginning with buying a building and equipment,” she said. “And when you have a building there is always repairs and maintenance, and my poor husband gets stuck doing everything. My husband can take apart machines, bring parts to a machine shop, and reassemble. To even find someone who could do it would be impossible. Without my husband, it wouldn’t be running.”
“The best part about this business is I never had to have a babysitter, I always had my kids,” said Covello. “I had a crib, or a backpack, I could bring them. My son would have the little Jeep and put the box of pasta on the jeep and drive it into the cooler. I was able to attend all their sporting events, school events — I never had to miss anything.”
Last year, La Bella Pasta and the neighboring shops decided to capitalize on the power in numbers. They transformed their small section of Route 28 into a kind of “Gourmet Row” they call “Eat Drink 28.” So far, it’s comprised of neighboring Kombucha Brooklyn, Hookline Fish Company, Bistro to Go, Cheese Louise and the Wine Hutch.
Business owners got together to advertise and pool money for the billboard and signs. One billboard advertises to drivers to check out Eat Drink 28, and the shops all bear signs with the logo featured on the billboard that represents their shop. “People come now and they come do the whole thing; they stop for salmon, get their wine. We promote each other, too.”
Richard Erickson, owner of Bistro to Go, said the group advertising campaign has so far been a success, even if just in raising awareness. “We are trying to celebrate the neighborhood.” Bistro to Go carries La Bella Pasta products, and said he periodically includes them among his specials as well. One such specialty ravioli, zucchini and mint, he served with sautéed red peppers, chopped zucchini and more mint. It was a huge hit, he said.
Cheese Louise owner Sam McDevitt described La Bella’s pasta as “beautiful, handmade pasta.” He too regularly sends customers down to La Bella’s, always hearing good feedback.
For more information about La Bella Pasta, visit lbpasta.com or call 331-9130.