Paul’s Pasta has over 30 years of success in Groton
This week’s edition of The Local Flavor features Paul and Dorothy Fidrych, co-owners of Paul’s Pasta in Groton, Connecticut. They met in college continuing their culinary studies before working at a local restaurant. Realizing the hard work they were providing, they decided to start their own business instead.
The inspiration came from a small pasta store with a pasta machine in the window. They both wanted to do the same and ended up with a perfect location in the heart of Groton. With more than 30 years of activity, Paul’s Pasta has become a pillar of the region.
Blaine: How did you both end up opening Paul’s Pasta?
Dorothy: We got married in 1984. We were both in the restaurant business and we worked really hard. We decided that if we were going to work so hard, we might as well do it for ourselves. We looked for a concept that didn’t exist in the area and came across pasta making.
Paul: We knew at one point that we wanted to open our own business. Not necessarily a restaurant, but a business. Dorothy’s dad had his own business and we wanted the same. I’ve always been a self-taught type. There was this pasta store in Deep River and there was this pasta machine in the window. We thought we could do something like this and it would be more relaxed than a full-fledged catering business.
When we were looking for a location for the first time, we were working on our business plans. We spent three months researching while fine-tuning what we wanted to do. We looked from Westerly to Norwich to New London. We were searching and found this place with a sign on the front that said âFor Rentâ.
The people who left kept all the tables and chairs in the restaurant. I spoke with my wife and we really liked it. There was this nice big window in the front where we could put the pasta machine so that people passing by or driving could see it. Not much has changed over the years.
It’s a neat little place with a terrace that overlooks New London and the River Thames. We also get a beautiful sunset, weather permitting. You can see the clouds change color and feel the wind blowing. That’s wonderful.
Blaine: Running a pasta store, is it what you both learned in school or rooted in the history of either of your families?
Dorothy: None of us have a drop of Italian blood in us. We learned in school and on the job. We were in Deep River and saw this really cool pasta shop with a big machine in the window. We said, “Hey, that’s pretty neat, we can do that.” So we did it!
Paul: It mainly came from our own curiosity. My grandmother was a very good cook with her Portuguese origins, but it was mostly our own interest. We both went to college wondering what to do and saw a lot of in demand positions for chefs.
Blaine: When did Paul’s Pasta open? What was business like then compared to now? Surprises?
Dorothy: We opened in 1988. It seems there are a lot more restaurants than before. There are also many more chain restaurants. At the time, we wanted a very busy restaurant. We wanted something that had a large front window where we could put the pasta machine.
When we first opened there were no tables. It was just a little pasta shop and a gourmet shop. Over the years, people wanted to eat here. We ditched the gourmet food and put tables instead. We learned on the fly and answered what customers were looking for.
Paul: Well, the biggest surprise is the number of taxes and money orders the government imposes on you. But no, there are a lot of things that have happened over the years that have helped grow our business. Things that we have also adapted to, like the Atkins diet. When customers wanted to avoid meat, bread and pasta, anything that had to do with carbohydrates, we came up with a small menu of items other than pasta.
September 11 was a horrific time in the history of our country. With that, the recession, the housing bust, the Dot.com bust, one of the things that kept our popularity going was our perception of value. We are locally owned, we sell well priced pasta and food, and the local community knows us well. The community in particular has been amazing. We are located in a neat little place in Groton with a lot of business around us.
Blaine: What is the process for making your pasta?
Dorothy: The dough is basically the same. It is a combination of durum wheat flour, semolina flour, eggs and water. It is mixed in the hopper and unrolled. We roll it out into sheets and cut it with the pasta machine. We use all of our pasta on the menu for customers who wish to order meals.
You can either get a freshly cooked meal or raw pasta and sauce that we make from scratch so you can cook it whenever you want. Fresh pasta is tough, however, if you want to keep it. It is made with eggs, so it must be frozen so that it does not stick. It’s different from a box of pasta that you keep in your pantry.
Blaine: What is the difference in taste between fresh pasta and canned pasta?
Dorothy: It’s softer. It’s a little sweeter and cooks much faster. Usually 2-3 minutes compared to 12+ minutes with dry pasta. With our retail you can buy everything you need to prepare a meal at home, even meatballs and garlic bread. We have everything our customers need.
Blaine: How has COVID affected the business of Paul’s Pasta?
Dorothy: Well, luckily for us, we have a solid take-out base. As soon as it all stopped, we were lucky to have it already in place. We did curbside take out. A lot of people weren’t ready to do it, so we felt lucky. We still do it today.
The catering side of our business was however strongly impacted. People couldn’t come together in groups. We were selling pasta platters. People order as much as they need and come and get it. We also had to lay off servers, but we kept a few employees. People always wanted to eat and they were nervous so the curbside take out worked great for us. People stop and we bring them food.
Blaine: On May 19, apart from the use of the mask, businesses can operate normally. Is Paul’s Pasta scheduled for this date?
Dorothy: We are not quite ready yet. There is a lack of employees who want to work right now. We are still hiring and training and coming back to the restaurant.
Blaine: Looking at the map, what are your bestsellers?
Dorothy: Our absolute bestseller is our breaded chicken Alfredo. We sell more of it than anything else. We also have a well balanced menu. We have traditional spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, linguini and clam sauce, some vegetarian options. We make fresh ravioli on site. It is a well balanced menu. Most things are cooked to order. We go through food so fast. We even have homemade gluten free pasta for those who order it.
Paul: I take pride in any dish on the menu, that’s the great thing about it. Although one item that stands out is our Diablo Chicken. It is a chicken breast marinated in mustard and lemon with crushed red pepper. It’s a good dish, a little different from the other items on our menu. I think the diversity of our menu speaks for itself. We have a lot of different options for a small place. Our turnover allows us to do this.
Blaine: How much food are you going through?
Dorothy: I can’t even answer this question. We probably go through about 200 pounds of pasta on busy days. What’s been good is that even with COVID, our retail business has picked up a lot as more and more customers are cooking at home.
Blaine: Do you have something to say to the patrons who have supported Paul’s Pasta through COVID?
Paul: All of our customers are awesome. The support we have received throughout this time, from the very beginning, has been incredible. They probably felt the same for us as we did for them. I can’t wait to see them again inside and on the deck. We have received a lot of help from different directorates, from the federal level to the local level. At every turn, someone was trying to help us where we needed it.
We’ve really been turning our restaurant in a different direction all year round and now we have to go back, bring dinner back. I am truly grateful to our clients and to all of the health workers as well. Most of us are vaccinated here and that is going in the right direction as well. We just need a little more time to rehire the staff that we have lost.
Dorothy: We have so many repeat customers with 33 years of business. They come for take out on the sidewalk and we miss seeing their faces walking into the restaurant. We just ask our customers to be patient. We will soon have our restaurant open. We just ask to be patient while we put everything in place. It’s not a switch that will turn on on May 19th. There is a process for getting ready after being closed for dinner for over a year.
Paul: We just ask them to be patient. Once we reopen for dinner there will be some bumps in the road and some glitches. Go downstairs, enjoy the menu.