I’d say that it was somewhere between feeding my obsessions and food tourism.
Flour City Pasta is a longtime favorite of Al Dente. We stop by their booth at the Central New York Regional Market each week, sometimes even when we don’t need anything, to pick up a half-pound. They are regulars at farmer’s markets around Rochester and their products can be found on the shelves at organic food stores, like Syracuse’s Green Planet Grocery. They recently relocated from Fairport to the village of Pittsford, which gives them much more exposure at a cost.
Jon Stadt, the owner, said that the landlord owns the building only. They have no storage area on site, keeping their organic flour offsite in Pittsford storage space, and the building owner has to rent space for dumpsters that his tenants can use.
The new space has an open working space, welcoming onlookers to watch malfadine and conchiglie tumble from the machine, or as pastamakers fashion fresh ravioli on a work bench facing the door. Wooden pallets were retrofitted into the wall and window shelving, while wooden crates surround the ravioli freezer and other non-wooden items on the floor. F. Oliver’s, an artisan oil and vinegar shop, has floor space along the right wall.
Jon was pretty proud of his new digs as he showed The Wife and I around. Ravioli production was just getting underway, as a restaurant had just come in and claimed the remainder of the fresh product. The bread guy was on his way as well. A refrigerated case upfront held sauces and meatballs, making Flour City a one stop shop for dinner.
When we mentioned that we were headed to Trader Joe’s to pick up some gluten-free stuff, Jon said that he has requests for a gluten-free pasta but cross-contamination makes that impossible. He showed the gluten-free Le Veneziane-brand pasta that he recently started carrying. The corn-based pasta is considered to be the best gluten-free option made in Italy. We added a bag of that to a box of braised beef ravioli and went on our way to Trader Joe’s.
Following the load up at Trader Joe’s, we made our way to the Park Avenue Neighborhood for a visit to the city’s F. Oliver’s outlet. The Rochester storefront is one of three for owner Penelope Pankow (Canandaigua and Ithaca mark her other locations, in addition to the space at Flour City Pasta).
F. Oliver’s does not press the oils themselves. They import oils and vinegars from around the world, infusing them with fruits, peppers, and herbs in specially crafted pots.
I have received gifts from F. Oliver’s in the past. My CEO said that if I ever had the time, that I needed to stop in for a tasting. Allison was behind the counter on Friday, walking The Wife and I around to taste infused oils and vinegars. The tasting was very much like a visit to a winery, with swirling and using the palm of the hand to warm the contents of the tasting cup to bring out the flavors. Allison asked us what flavors we liked, what foods we ate a lot of and moved with precision to offer tastes of oils that we would enjoy, as along with a complementary vinegar.
Blood orange oil and espresso vinegar? Oh yeah!
Persian lime oil with blushing peach vinegar? Very much so.
I think what stands out about both Flour City Pasta and F. Oliver’s was that the owner was out front, not hiding in an office. Penelope talked with The Wife for a few minutes, chatting about the recent wave of expansion the business has gone through as well as her future plans. She suggested that we head to South Wedge next to explore a couple of shops along South Avenue and have lunch at one of her favorite spots, Open Face. She ran in back and actually printed us directions from the store to Open Face. Who does that?
Three bottles of oil and vinegar later, we left for lunch.
What stands out at both of these businesses is their owner. They are the face of their companies, working the floor while the people are there and leaving the backroom stuff until later. They interact with customers, walk around their stores pointing out things that they are proud of, and ensuring both the quality of their product and the experience.
I’m under no illusions that owning a small business is an easy thing to do. Jon is at that shop all six days it is open, plus he’s on the road at the farmer’s markets in the region. The expansion felt by F. Oliver’s meant tremendous risk for Penelope and her business. They didn’t flip switches overnight to build their cult following of devotees like me.
Did Jon and Penelope have others things to do — better things to do — than talk to The Wife and me? Probably. But, they also understand that building relationships, no matter how good the product or service, is what sustains a business long term.
And good on them.
Flour City Pasta is located at 5 S. Main St. in the village of Pittsford. Its storefront is open Monday through Saturday. You can find them at nearly every farmer’s market in Rochester and the Central New York Regional Market in Syracuse. Their pasta can also be ordered online.
F. Oliver’s Rochester location is at 747 Park Ave. They also have locations on Main Street in Canandaigua and in the Gateway Commons district of Ithaca. Those stores are open seven days a week. F. Oliver’s can also be found at Flour City Pasta. Their products can also be purchased through their website.