- 38 YEARS -
With an idea, no funds, and John being out of a job, we decided to open a pasta shop. Being 23 and 26 years old with young confidence (also a bit naïve), we visited several banks with what we thought was a great business plan. One by one, the banks reviewed our plans and our request for a loan. They either didn't get back with us or kindly responded saying they did not want to get into the pasta business. One bank even said the board members did not know what pasta was, so they proclaimed the loan as a potentially bad investment.
After countless denials, John's dad graciously co-signed a loan in the amount of $20,000. The interest rate at that time was at an all time high of 21%, which made our payments over $500 per month for 5 years.
We found a vacant retail space for rent, about 500 square feet, across from the brand new Kroger on Bardstown Road. With the help of our parents and a couple friends, we did all the remodeling ourselves. Vicki's uncle, who owned VOIT’S ELECTRICAL COMPANY and her dad did all the electrical work needed to operate the little store. We painted ourselves and made our own signs and graphics on our shoestring budget.
While we were in the shop painting late one night, an older gentleman stumbled in our opened door from the bar next door and asked what we were going to open up. We excitedly explained, “We are going to make and sell fresh pasta!” He got really animated and wished us the very best, and walked out. A few minutes later, he wandered back in and asked, "What is pasta?"
At this time in the early 80s, most people knew spaghetti and macaroni, but not so much the term pasta. We were very blessed and got taken under the wing of some of the most prominent known Italian families here in our town. Ferd Grisanti, owner of the famous FERD GRISANTI RESTAURANT that was a landmark in Jeffersontown for many years, invited both of us over to observe him making fresh pasta in their restaurant kitchen. After which, he graciously had us join him and his family for lunch. We also had the honor of knowing the late Gert and Al Campisano of AL CAMPISANO PRODUCE. They became customers and mentors, giving us encouragement and advice on running a successful business. There were many more great customers who have become family to us. We watched their kids grow from birth, some of which grew up and worked at our store. And sadly, we have lost some of our dearest customers over the years, so many that became like family and close friends.
Finally, the day came and on March 4th, 1982 we officially opened our door. Much to our pride and amazement, we actually had customers come in on day one! (Do Moms and Dads count?) Those first few days, the shelves were very bare. We had one refrigerator that we acquired from Vicki's Grandma, and a chest freezer from John’s parents. We made fresh noodles in a commercial tabletop machine. It could make 5-7 lbs. at a time, making egg, spinach, and whole wheat pasta. We rolled out sheets with a hand crank pasta machine and hand cut our own ravioli and twisted hand made tortellini.
We kept expanding whenever we could, by buying new equipment, inventory and fixtures. Once we paid off one loan, we got another so we could keep expanding. (We got really tired of making those ravioli and tortellini by hand, especially as they became more popular). We were open six days a week, taking Mondays off allowing us to travel to Chicago monthly to pick up our imported goods. At first, we drove a small pickup truck pulling a little U-Haul trailer. Remembering back, the warehouse workers would make fun of us as we backed in between the tractor trailers (calling our vehicle our little wagon). We kept buying bigger trucks over the years to accommodate our heavier loads from over twelve Chicago importers. In 1995 we purchased a truck we still presently use. It can carry 10 pallets and 18,000 pounds of cheese, tortillas, imported Italian, Mexican, Asian, Greek foods, and whatever else we could find to make Lotsa Pasta unique.
After work, during the spring and summer, many hours were spent driving to Vicki's parent’s farm outside Middletown. We planted basil, up to 1,500 plants, carried five gallon buckets of water out to keep them alive because there was no running water in the field. From these crops we spent hours in the field, and then even more long hours at the shop making enough pesto (which freezes well) from the fresh cut basil to last until the next year.
Our first years were lean and totally run just by the two of us with occasional help from parents or other family members. Before we could afford linen service, we wore handmade aprons that were made by Vicki’s Mom. After our third year, our first employee wandered in the shop and asked for a job. She, Julianne Thomas, was just a high school student from Sacred Heart looking for her first job. We were so shocked that someone wanted a job, we hired her. She was part of Lotsa Pasta for 21 years. Today, we have a family of 45-50 employees working at Lotsa Pasta. Many have been with us for an average of 8-10 years, some reaching 20 years of dedication, accounting for much of the success of the business.
After almost 10 years at our first location, we out grew it. We filled every possible nook and cranny until we had no where else to expand. With much apprehension, we found a new location and moved to Lexington Road in St. Matthews. We changed the store hours and are now open seven days a week. From day one at the new location, the business increased. Our minds were put at ease after making the risky decision to change our location.
With the newer and larger space we were able to continue growing and offering more products. We added a real deli, offering sandwiches, salads, soups, and many freshly made items. Not long into our current home, we then added a bakery. We were the first bakery in town to bake and sell Ciabatta and Focaccia breads. We presently bake seven nights a week and prep in our kitchen six days a week. In addition to our retail store, we service many restaurants, retail stores, and coffee shops with our freshly baked goods and pastas.
From the beginning to the present, our drive has remained the same. We will keep growing, providing high quality products and service, while constantly developing new delicacies in our kitchen.
During these 35 years, we married and had three terrific kids. They are now young adults, Ellen is 28, Carly is 26, and Quentin is close behind at 24. They all grew up in the store in cribs and corrals. Later they screamed around on rollerblades, and then sometimes were helpers. We couldn't be more proud of the people they have become. We divorced in 2005, yet still remain business partners. We continue to support each other with our kids and our first "child,' Lotsa Pasta.
We owe huge thank you's to the many customers that have been so supportive from day one to day 12,155. We have shared recipes, ideas, product suggestions, and enjoyed the years of conversation. Whether we talked about food, kids, health, business, or the weather; our customers are like family to us.
We are also truly blessed to have people working with us side by side daily that care about Lotsa Pasta as much as we do. Without everyone here, we could not do what we do. Long gone is the two people operation.
It is with the utmost gratitude and humbleness that we look back in awe and cannot begin to say enough thanks. To our first and strongest fans (our parents), our first day customers, and now the new faces that walk in daily. Both of our Fathers are gone and our Moms have a hard time remembering, but without their help in recognizing our desire to realize a dream, Lotsa Pasta would not exist today.
We look forward to many more years to come, while we pause to appreciate from where we came. We hope you have enjoyed our story of a dream, a desire, and all the people connected to Lotsa Pasta that made our first 35 years a success.
Only in America! Thank You Everyone!
- John & Vicki