John Pauley and Anna Li of Mattarello are what so many farmers market vendors aspire to be but never quite pull off. They’re organized, friendly and smiling in the early morning hours, make an effort to get to know other vendors right away, and maintain fierce standards of quality. They even have pretty awesome matching shirts with their company badge on the sleeve. They’ve got it together. And although they’ve only been selling at The Marin Country Mart for a few months now, customers can sense this: their booth is getting increasingly busy with last week their best Saturday ever.
I had a chance to chat with them about their business, how they got started, what inspires them, and where they eventually want to be. They work at La Cocina and spend two days making pasta for Saturday’s market, rolling out the pasta with a little pasta machine and hand-cutting it the night before. John also makes incredible sauces; Anna helps streamline the processes and packages the products. Without further ado, meet John and Anna, and hear their story through John’s own words.
1. Tell me a little about your business and how/why you decided to start it. We are a small artisanal pasta company with a traditional, hands-on approach to making pasta. As a veteran in the food business, I (John) spent a lot of time in fine-dining and working for other people. This was an opportunity for us to open our own business and run it the way we wanted. Our goal is to stay close to the traditions that inspire our products, so being our own bosses means that we won’t compromise on the quality and authenticity. This is also a great opportunity for us to work together for the first time.
2. Why pasta? I’ve been cooking for over twenty years with a focus on French cuisine. During my years of cooking, I’ve always enjoyed making pasta, but I was mostly self-taught. After my first trip to Italy in November 2005, I became more fascinated with Italian cuisine and culture. In March of 2008, Anna and I visited Bologna and went on a culinary walking tour in the center of the city. There, we met Franco and Grazia Macchiavelli of Salumeria Bruno e Franco who make all of their pasta by hand and are considered one the best pastaficios in Bologna. I returned two months later to apprentice with them for 3 1/2 months in the art of “la sfoglia,” which is traditional, hand-made pasta. We return to Italy every year and explore different regions each time so we can expand our knowledge and our experience of the cuisine. Italy and food are our passions, so this company is a perfect expression of those sentiments. Each of our ingredient labels has “love” as the last ingredient, and believe it or not, each ball of dough that’s rolled into a sheet is infused with love and care. I consider each sauce and each pasta a culmination of my cooking experience and travels.
3. Do you think living in the Bay Area allows your business to flourish? If so, how so? The Bay Area has a rich and informed food culture. People here appreciate and seek out food that is made with respect to its heritage and with the best ingredients. In Bolgona, I was accustomed to making and eating pasta that met a certain standard. There, egg yolks are so rich, they are almost red in color. In fact, they actually call the yolk the “red part” of the egg. When I returned, I spent years searching for the closest egg I could find to what I had in Italy. That led me to Yenni Ranch in Sonoma which is where we get our eggs. These eggs lend the right texture and color to the pasta. We also use their grass-fed beef, not only because it’s delicious, but because we want to know where our products are coming from. In sum, our goal is to put the best possible ingredients into the best tasting products, and the Bay Area consumer has the same mission to find those products.
4. What have been the highlights of being a small business owner in the Bay Area thus far? Opening Mattarello is the pursuit of our dream on our own terms. The satisfaction we get when we have repeat customers who have overwhelmingly positive responses to our products is confirmation that we are on the right track.
5. What challenges are you facing right now in terms of growth or vision? Our greatest challenge is exposure. It’s hard to be a small company just starting out and trying to get our product to consumers. We are confident that once people eat our pasta, the number of Mattarello converts will grow. We have had multiple people come up to us stating that after they’ve eaten our pasta, they can’t go back to eating the “status quo.”
6. What inspires you, day to day? After many years of working long hours in hot kitchens, the summer I spent in Bologna, I lived like an Italian and everyday I pinched myself, saying, “Wow, am I really doing this?” Of all my life experiences, I am the most proud of this. I ate, lived and experienced things that I never thought possible. Through Mattarello, I can share the experience I had in Bologna and tell the stories of the people I met and worked with.
7. What are the goals for the future? We don’t have a specific goal, but we have a broad vision of several possible goals. We could develop into a company that just sells at more farmers markets or at grocery stores, we could become a catering business, we could open our own free-standing shop or restaurant. If we were pinned down, ultimately, we would like to have a small shop where we sell handmade pasta, sauces and ready-made foods which, on the weekends, would turn into a restaurant that would serve a family-style dinner.