Industry: Food & Beverage
Products: Pasta, sauces, and marinades
Owner and President Jim Steinberg curates a colorful, artisanal product line spotlighting "The Fine Art Of Pasta."
"We do have the reputation as the finest pasta maker in the area – if not the country," says Steinberg about his company's array of raviolis and flavor-infused linguine, penne, fettucine, and, yes, pappardelle (thick-cut noodles).
But if pasta was the company's original primary canvas, it's expanded, from early on, into other mediums, as well, selling a variety of sauces, marinades, and oils and vinegars to enhance the dining experience.
Steinberg and his wife, Paula, purchased the company in 2002. Original owners David Bowen and Bill Curtis (referred to by one magazine as "The Michelangelos of Pasta") had helmed the company since 1984, before deciding to sell. Bowen and Curtis had made a name for Pappardelle's by catering to fine-dining establishments, as well as developing a customer base at local farmers markets.
Since taking over the company, Steinberg has overseen the introduction of additional products, and the expansion into newer markets, such as Whole Foods stores. "We have grown at least fourfold since I took the reigns," says Steinberg, who's originally from Philadelphia and a onetime attorney dealing with corporate mergers and acquisitions. The number of employees at Pappardelle's has increased from seven to 27.
Today, upwards of 300 restaurant locations in Colorado use products from Pappardelle's, and the products can also be found at around 200 farmers markets throughout the nation, including ones in Colorado at Cherry Creek in Denver (one of the company's original locations), Longmont, Boulder, Golden, and Aspen.
There's a demand for the company's wide variety of offerings, some of which are gluten-free. "We have hundreds of products in our portfolio," says Steinberg. "We add 20 to 30 products a year, some by design, some by unexpected collaborations with creative people like chefs."
Not chefs themselves, the Steinbergs had no food industry experience before purchasing the company. But Steinberg (wearing a shirt bearing the logo of a popular craft beer brand) says they were into craft products: "We had an appreciation for fine things, including fine food."
Steinberg refers to his company's flagship food items as the "perfect pasta," and says, "We care about the look of the pasta pre-cook -- and post-cook -- on the plate. The smell. The texture. The flavor. All the natural ingredients. . . . So it's the totality of the sensory experience that we're trying to reach at all times."
In a 20,000-square-foot facility in Denver's Northeast Park Hill neighborhood, long sheets of pasta dough are created, cut into strips, and dried in rooms which mimic the breezes and climate of Italy. It's a slow-drying process, in order to "tease the water out of the pasta," he says, taking anywhere from two to four days.
Raviolis are enhanced with textured chunks of food, rather than mushy, pureed fillings.
The dough for short-cut pastas (like its penne or gemelli) gets extruded through Italian bronze dies, rather than Teflon. Teflon dies, which other pasta manufacturers often use, last longer, but they don't provide the richer mouthfeel and texture, which also allows sauces to cling to the noodles better, according to company spokesman Jesse Stubbs.
Each worker gets up to a year of training, before they're considered proficient enough to handle the tasks without supervision. And there are multiple products that need to be artisanally created.
There's orzo, in infused flavors such as Asian, Cuban, Rainbow, and Southwest. There are raviolis like Shrimp Scampi in Parsley Fleck Dough, Broccoli and Cheddar with Avery Brewing Co. IPA in Egg Dough, and Lobster in Sweet Red Pepper Dough. As for its Italian Style Buffalo Meat in Egg Dough, Steinberg says, "It's one of those products that when you put it in someone's mouth, they just seem to melt over it." (The latter ravioli is also served at Yellowstone National Park -- and the company also likes to point out how it's pasta has been served to heads of state and a pope.)
There are also around five different pesto varieties, as well as over a dozen sauces, prepared in-house, in flavors like Chimayo Chile, Thai Peanut, and Lemon Alfredo.
Its Garlic Chive Pappardelle is one of the company's best-sellers. And Pappardelle's gnocchis bring Steinberg pride: "Virtually every chef that we present it to says it is the finest manufactured gnocchi that they've ever tasted."
There's even dessert pastas made with dark chocolate: "People just fall in love with the romance of a chocolate pasta, the uniqueness of a chocolate pasta."
Diners who have celiac disease? No problem. The company has met the challenge of developing a gluten-free line, as well. For instance, there's Gluten-Free Lemon Pepper Fusilli made from brown rice flour, tapioca flour, corn flour, and quinoa flour, among other ingredients. Steinberg says, "We wanted to create a gluten-free product that was as close to our gluten products as we could get. . . . Internally, some even preferred the gluten-free a little more."
No doubt, Steinberg gets feedback from his relatives. The Steinbergs' three children work for the company, as does a son-in-law. He also considers his workers and customers as part of his extended family. So Steinberg wants to make sure that the business carries on, providing for all involved.
Steinberg, 56, says, "I view my job at this company as a second-baton carrier of a four-lap relay. I took the baton from the founders. My job is to hand it off to the third lap runner, and their job [is to pass if off] to the fourth lap runner. But the lap is so long, I can't see that runner yet. And so, as part of the vision of my mission, I want to make sure we stay true to roots that the company grew up around."
Challenges: Steinberg says, "I feel we have two principle challenges. One is always being able to find good people, especially when you're in an artisan craft business. We're very fortunate: we have low turnover, we have a great, great employee base. Customers are absolutely our top priority here, and employees are a close second. That said, if you're ever going to grow, you have to have people to do that, and finding good people is always a challenge especially in this particular economy.
"The other challenge would be...everybody wants everything for less money and they want high-, unique-quality at mass-produced costs. That's a continual challenge when you're a small artisan-batch company like ours."
Opportunities: Opportunities find the company, rather than Steinberg seeking them out: "We have been blessed to grow in opportunities that come find us. And that has kept us busy. Because we will never forsake an existing customer for a new customer. So while we're busy minding our existing customers, new opportunities present themselves, and sometimes we can accommodate those opportunities and sometimes we cannot. And, therefore, we don't have any future targets that are on our radar that we haven't really reached to that we think are reachable."
Needs: Simply adhering to his company's core principles, says Steinberg. "My business's philosophy is to do the right thing, to take care of people, to make the best product we can, to be mindful of the business consequences, the bottom line. But we never make decisions here based on the bottom line. We make decision based on what's best for customers, what's best for the integrity of the product, and what's best for the integrity of the company. A lot of companies feel they want to grow for the sake of growth, I like to call it -- and we don't. We want to grow if it's the right thing to serve customers who appreciate us -- or who will appreciate us."