September 6, 2017
Maine Food Insider

Maine Food Insider: Pass the ravioli … Bruno's Restaurant launches new pasta company

Courtesy / Bruno's Restaurant and Tavern
Courtesy / Bruno's Restaurant and Tavern
Danny Napolitano, general manager of Bruno's Restaurant and Tavern in Portland, oversees the making of a batch of ravioli.

Bruno's Restaurant and Tavern has been providing the Portland area with Italian food for decades, but it took some antique kitchen machinery gathering dust in a friend's garage to give Danny Napolitano an idea that may now seem obvious — making pasta that can be sold retail and wholesale.

Napolitano, the general manager of Bruno's Restaurant and Tavern, bought the extruder — a machine that makes rounded and hollow pasta — for a few hundred dollars. That purchase spurred the idea and now new state-of-the-art equipment imported from Italy is making ravioli by the batch in the Bruno Pasta Co.'s new commercial kitchen on Read Street in Portland.

The company, which shipped its first batch to stores about two weeks ago, is independent from the restaurant and starting small.

Courtesy / Bruno's Restaurant and Tavern
Courtesy / Bruno's Restaurant and Tavern
Ravioli-in-the-making at Bruno's new pasta-making venture.

Napolitano said Tuesday he is making about 100 pounds of ravioli at a time, with help from a cousin and uncle. The pasta can be found at Micucci Grocery on India Street, the Bow Street Market in Freeport, Pat's Meat Market on Stevens Avenue and Pond Cove IGA in Cape Elizabeth. Napolitano said those initial customers have reordered, and there is interest from other retailers.

'It should be in more stores soon," Napolitano said.

He said they'd mulled over what kind of pasta should launch the company, and ravioli won out. Part of that has to do with how ravioli is made — when made by hand it's labor-intensive, and the restaurant has been making its own ravioli by hand for years.

"There are better ways to make ravioli," Napolitano said.

The restaurant, which also sells the pasta as a retail product, will begin serving it once its last batch of hand-made ravioli is gone.

Napolitano said the company will eventually add other pastas, such as cannelloni (a round tubular pasta often stuffed with ricotta or meat), and possibly also add employees.

Starting small

Courtesy / Bruno's Restaurant and Tavern
Courtesy / Bruno's Restaurant and Tavern
Bruno's is starting small, making about about 100 pounds of ravioli at a time.

Initially, though, they wanted to start small and focus on making a good product.

The starting small plan has a good model. When Napolitano's father, Bob Napolitano started Bruno's in 1981, it was in the corner of the Micucci Grocery building on India Street. As the restaurant grew, it expanded, moving across the city to Allen Avenue in 1999, adding a dining room and tavern, a banquet hall and a catering business over the years.

There's traditional cheese, spinach, sun-dried tomato. They hope to add lobster soon. They also plan to produce and sell the restaurant's spaghetti sauce. While it's no longer folded and pinched by hand, it's still made from scratch with preservative-free ingredients, Napolitano said.

Besides the investment in equipment and commercial kitchen, Napolitano also spent time training in the latest methods and is keeping up on industry practices. He said the ravioli is something people would have a hard time finding in the area — small-batch stuffed pasta, with no shortcuts, and locally made.

A news release announcing the company's launch last week touted the family's love of making its own pasta as well as serving the people of Greater Portland. But Napolitano said Tuesday that there's more to the new company than that.

"I see a lot of pasta on the shelves," he said. "We wanted to make something unique."


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