There's a decent chance you've eaten Severino pasta -- even if you've never visited the shop, which glows like a neon beacon on Haddon Avenue in Westmont.
A lot of semolina flour and water are at work here. Severino, whose manufacturing plant in the back runs two shifts a day and whose counter also sells prepared foods, cheeses, and other Italian specialty foods, sells its dry and fresh pasta to hundreds of restaurants.
It has pasta counters in about 70 Whole Foods stores from New England to Florida. It also sells its dry pasta for the retailer, as well as under Whole Foods' 365 label. More recently, Severino opened a counter eatery, dubbed Severino Cucina Rustica, selling pasta dishes and sandwiches at the Whole Foods store near Logan Square in Philadelphia. Severino makes the pasta packaged for Blue Apron, the meal-kit delivery company.
And it's all because Joseph Severino, an Italian immigrant, got tired of selling shoes in New Jersey and decided to move his wife, Anna Maria, and family back to Italy in 1957. He left New Jersey selling Oxfords, bucks, and loafers. He came back in 1971 as a pasta manufacturer, working with a single machine from a garage not far from the present location, which opened in the mid-1980s.
That machine still works. Joseph, who is 84, not so much, though he still comes in a few days a week. Anna Maria is 89.
Louis Severino, 58, the couple's oldest child -- who now runs Severino with his brother, Peter, and sister, Carla -- shares their story.
What made your parents move back to Italy?
They felt that there was more that they could do. In Italy, my father saw a small company manufacturing pasta on the street where they lived. He asked them if he could apprentice. They said to them, "Yes, you could apprentice here, but you have to move back to the United States." My father learned the craft for about a year, a year and a half with them, purchased a machine, and came to the United States.
What was business like then?
Slow. A lot of people didn't actually know what the items were, especially when they used names like tagliatelle. Then when we switched them over to linguine, it started to pick up a little bit. They persisted. My father would go out and show samples to restaurants. Working with the restaurants, he started to do business. Then there was a big hit for them with Philadelphia Magazine, who did an article on them. They were off and running.
When did he realize that he had to move to a bigger building?
That was about 14 years later, when I had already come into the company. We started making deliveries and being able to go out to the restaurants. We purchased a few more machines and did other cuts. With the help of some of our local chefs, we got into different product items. Then we moved here. My brother at that point was finished with school and then came on. He went out working within the company and working on sales. Now we started to have a little force. Then my sister came in and started working the office. Now we had a small team. I do operations of the company. My sister works in the office. Now I have the next generation, my son, Joseph, who is overseeing a lot of the efforts for national products. My brother handles the accounts with Whole Foods along with the rest of our team. Now they have a team of bookkeepers and logistics people and a warehousing crew. And there's a 30,000-square-foot packaging and distribution center in Cherry Hill.
Was there ever a thought that you wouldn't go into this business?
No. I remember when my father opened up, I was 12. I worked through summer. I started working after school. I would work on the weekends. Then as school finished, I came directly into the company, like the rest of us. For me, working operations, that was a different day. It was a day of building things. Today is a whole other chapter in this company. I said to my son, "You can't come into this company today without a major college degree."
What separates you from some of the big guys?
Louis: We are small-batch, more artisanal. We run it totally through brass dies versus a Teflon-style die.
There's a difference?
Oh, absolutely. Everything that we do and we work with, we're running through premium-type machinery, but smaller. My batches may run 150 pounds, so you're not talking about pasta that's shot out through silos and just thousands of pounds put out. We're out physically working these items. We're looking at it. We're working with the dough.
What happened during the low-carb craze?
I would say that it kind of did affect us somewhat, but you have your people who didn't worry, really. Even today, we don't work a lot with gluten-free products. Our house here is a gluten house and we manufacture that way. As we see it, the base core of pasta will always remain. It will always remain.
Do you have a favorite?
Some of our long-cut pastas. I love a nice pappardelle with ragu or meat sauce.
We're looking at expanding the retail part as we take the growth of the manufacturing out of this building. I can't say much about it, but we are working diligently with two prospects to move the manufacturing facility from this site to a much larger site nearby. We will possibly enlarge the retail here.