Everybody loves a “rags to riches” story, and while some such tales have their roots in luck, most are the result of a combination of astute judgement, unwavering commitment and lots of hard work. To this second category belongs the story of Pasqualina (“Lilly”) and Giovanni D’Alelio, and their fresh pasta company, “Lilly’s Gastronomia Italia”.
Unbeknownst to the D’Alelios, the graphic design studio which they ran in Genoa from 1974 to 1978 was directly responsible for placing them in the culinary track. The studio subscribed to many American magazines, ostensibly to study their ad content, but Lilly enjoyed reading the feature articles as well. She was quick to notice a rise in the American public’s interest in pasta. No longer was it just a budget stretcher, cooked till mushy and doused with sauce, but an elegant dish in its own right, attractively and imaginitively presented. Neither did it escape Lilly’s notice that health professionals were backing pasta’s nutritional value. She felt strong stirrings to turn her own passion for cooking into a career abroad. She was certain the time was right for such a venture and voiced the idea to her husband. Giovanni was skeptical at first, but Lilly’s continued insistence eventually swayed him.
The couple moved first to Milan, where Lilly enrolled in cooking courses to perfect her art. Giovanni sold pasta machines for a living, all the while researching which brands performed best.
The D’Alelios arrived in the States with three small children, $200 in their pockets, and big debts, but their dreams were even bigger. Giovanni found factory work and Lilly sewed skirts in her home while they saved and looked for a workspace. Lilly sold all her gold jewelry to pay the $2000 import duty on the first machines. In April, 1986, Lilly’s Gastronomia Italiana opened its doors in Everett, Massachusetts.
Giovanni didn’t use sophiscated marketing techniques. Rather, he combed through the streets of Boston and local area phone books and called all the restaurants and hotels he felt might be interested in a quality fresh pasta product. In return for a would-be clients’ attention, he offered an assortment of samples of Lilly’s goodies. He knew his English wasn’t very good, but had faith that their pasta would speak for itself.
He was right. The D’Alelios were overwhelmed by the favorable response their pasta received. They stress that the enthusiasm of their customers made all their efforts worthwhile.
The chef’s who tasted Lilly’s specialties were eager to incorporate her pasta into their menus. Four-star hotels and little ethnic restaurants alike began to order from the D’Alelios. From the start, Lilly knew that variety would be the spice of her business. Although their product list has been expanded with the introduction of new machines – and a brainstorm or two – Lilly has an impressive repertoire of seventeen pasta flavors such as saffron, squid ink, and cocoa, as well as the more standard egg, spinach, and tomato, all of which have been a feature since the beginning. Her exquisitely designed fillings (twenty-two and still counting) range from lobster and crabmeat to smoked salmon to gorgonzola and walnuts to artichoke and fontina to turkey and pineapple. She is more than happy to work with any chef to design tailor-made pastas and fillings, one-of-a-kind specialties she won’t offer to any other client.
The personalized service the D’Alelio’s offer in an overly mechanized industry is again reflected in their choice of ingredients. For example, Lilly’s uses only semolina flour, never bowing to the temptation to mix heavier and inferior white flour. The durum wheat in semolina makes for a firmer cooked pasta, and any pasta enthusist knows that texture is very important in setting off a delicate sauce. Lilly likes semolina for health reasons, too: it’s low gluten content makes it easy to digest, a plus for those with stomach problems and gourmanda alike! As for her filled pastas, Lilly’s uses only fresh vegetables which she cleans and cooks herself. Always with an eye toward healthful diet, she never uses butter or oil in preparing her fillings.
Though Giovanni passed away in 1991, Lilly, her son Antonio AKA “The Pastaman”, and her staff, have grown into one of the finest and best known pasta manufacturers in the greater Boston area. Lilly still works long days and has created an extensive selection of all natural pastas. Lilly still oversees the making of the pasta in order to maintain the same quality and consistency that have been her trademark for the last twenty five years.
Italians have a saying. “Tra il dire e il fare c’e di mezzo il mare”, meaning there’s an ocean difference between saying something and actually doing it. The D’Alelio’s have crossed that ocean in more ways than one.