From bucatini to linguine: Behind the scenes with the Peninsula’s noodle masters.
When my colleague Devin Roberts and I showed up at an 8 a.m. appointment deep in industrial Redwood City, we were flummoxed.
“Where’s the pasta factory?” we asked each other as we circled fruitlessly around the block, passing an RV repair shop and asking a man if he knew where the pasta factory was. (He didn’t know there was even one nearby.)
We circled the block again and then finally called the phone number of our contact on the inside: Trish Battaglia. She picked up immediately and eagerly stepped outside of an unmarked door and let us in.
In the front office of the factory, we donned hairnets and walked into the back room where Saporito Pasta makes its noodles.
Battaglia, her husband Greg and their business partner Brian DiNapoli have run the Redwood City pasta factory for about eight years and are its third owners; the factory has been in operation for at least 20 years. Since taking on the business, they have quadrupled pasta sales, Battaglia said.
And they’re looking to expand further: They recently purchased a new plant that will allow them to manufacture meat-based pasta dishes. Cooking with meat requires having specialized USDA inspection facilities, so they need a separate space, Battaglia explained.
A team of five workers clocks in at 5 a.m. daily to make fresh pasta and desserts that are served at restaurants like Local Union 271, 888 Ristorante Italiano, Stamp Bar and Grill, The Post, Miramar Beach Restaurant and the Peninsula Creamery, as well as sold at local grocers like Bianchini’s Market, Piazza’s Fine Foods, Sigona’s Farmers Market and Dehoff’s Market. The company works with other customers too, but some grocers co-pack the pasta to have that company’s branding on it, and some restaurants present it as their own housemade pasta, she explained.
Making the pasta
Saporito makes both dry and fresh pastas with just a handful of main ingredients: semolina and water, plus sometimes egg.
The pasta is made in a series of steps: First, the semolina and water are weighed. Next, they’re added to one of two machines that mix the dough. The first machine mixes the dough until it comes out in flat sheets, which are then rolled up around rods that are then fed through another machine that slices the sheets into different noodle shapes. This machine makes noodles shapes like linguini, pappardelle and lasagna.
Then there’s the extruder machine. This one is used for making the pasta noodles that come out as tubes – from macaroni to gemelli to penne. These are pressed through different dies – like a Play-Doh press – shaping long strands of tubular noodles.
During our visit, the extruder machine was pumping out long, thick bucatini noodles. As the noodles emerged in long, thick cords, the operator would wait until each was a little longer than a foot before slicing the emerging noodles and rolling them in semolina. Then he gently folded each noodle set into a bundle to be packaged for delivery.
As the day goes on, the team makes different batches of pasta, adding egg to some subsequent batches, and making further batches of the colored or flavored pasta varieties toward the end of the day. They’ve used natural ingredients like beets, spinach, roasted red peppers, paprika, saffron and squid ink in specialty orders, Battaglia said.
Times were tough for the factory during COVID. The team had to deal with a spike in the cost of flour and the dissipation of their tech company commissary kitchen customers. Before the pandemic, they had been preparing 4,000 pounds of pasta a week just for Google. After the outbreak, that disappeared. So the community stepped up to buy their pasta, Battaglia said. The Redwood City Police Department placed orders; the company began offering a 15% discount to first responders. And they voluntarily fed pasta to an entire hospital.
Plus, the grocery stores kept selling their pasta, she said.
“We’re thankful to all of our grocery stores we sell to,” Battaglia said. “They pretty much kept us in business.”
In addition to expanding to a new USDA-compatible facility where they can prepare food with meat, Saporito Pasta is also expanding production of its dessert offerings.
Two of the staff members previously worked at French Patisserie, a Pacifica-based macaron wholesaler. Saporito currently offers creme brulee, chocolate ganache mini cakes, raspberry mousse mini cakes and tiramisu. During the holidays they also make buche de Noel cakes.
They’re hoping to pass the business on to family members and often invite relatives to help out at the factory, Battaglia said. “It’s mangia (eat), but work,” she added.
All of the factory staff members work together to produce the pasta; the newer employees spend a couple of years just on one machine to master it before moving on to other parts of the manufacturing process, she said.
Some commute from as far away as Richmond, and Battaglia said she helps to pay for the FasTrak and gas costs associated with their commutes. She said her favorite part is seeing the employees “enjoy what they do.”
“We all bring skills,” she said. “Everybody contributes in one way or another.”
Where to find it
Saporito Pasta products are available at the following Peninsula grocery stores:
- Sigona’s Farmer’s Market, 2345 Middlefield Road, Redwood City, 650-368-6993; 399 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, 650-329-1340; Instagram: @sigonasfarmersmarket.
- Bianchini’s Market, 3130 Alpine Road #415, Portola Valley, 650-851-4391; 810 Laurel St., San Carlos, 650-592-4701; Instagram: @bianchinismarket.
- Piazza’s Fine Foods, 3922 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, 650-494-1629; 1218 W Hillsdale Blvd., San Mateo, 650-341-9496; Instagram: @piazzasfinefoods.
- Dehoff’s Market, 1063 Upton St., Redwood City, 650-365-5190; Instagram: @dehoffskeymarkets.