October 22, 2018
Family Business Awards 2018

From local family kitchen, Carla's Pasta grows into international distributor

PHOTO | Contributed
PHOTO | Contributed
(Main photo) Carla Squatritio, owner and founder of Carla's Pasta, with her two sons, Sandro and Sergio Squatritio, both vice presidents at the company. (Right photo) A photo of the extended Squatritio family. (Bottom photos) A picture of Carla Squatritio's first store in Manchester and a photo of current operations in South Windsor.

1st Place — 76-plus full-time employees category

Carla's Pasta

Headquarters: South Windsor

Industry: Food manufacturer

Year Founded: 1978

Founder: Carla Squatritio

Generation Currently Running Company: 1st & 2nd

No. of Full-Time Employees: 309

No. of Part-Time Employees: 0

Family Members Currently Employed: Carla Squatritio, Owner & Founder, mother; Sandro Squatritio, Vice President of Business Development, son; Sergio Squatritio, Vice President of Operations, son.

Company Website: www.carlaspasta.com

How does a family meal turn into an international business powerhouse?

It's all in the ingredients, which must be selected carefully and nurtured patiently, over time. And yes, they dare say it — with love and respect.

The main ingredient in this operation is 79-year-old Carla Squatrito. In the Squatrito family, other key ingredients, besides extra virgin olive oil and imported Romano cheese, include strength and passion.

Today, in its 40th-anniversary year, Carla's Pasta produces 1 million pounds of pasta a week at its ever-expanding factory in South Windsor — now at 90,000 square feet. The company, which recorded $116 million in sales in 2017, makes hundreds of different frozen filled pastas and pestos.

Hundreds of employees representing more than 30 countries produce pasta and pesto for schools, hospitals and restaurants like Panera, Applebee's and Buffalo Wild Wings, as well as grocery stores including Big Y, ShopRite, Stop & Shop and BJ's. Sales have expanded to Canada, Central and South America, the Pacific Rim and Middle East, according to a company spokeswoman.

This woman-owned, family run business was born, literally, in Turin, Italy during World War II. As Allied bombers targeted the heavily industrial city, 40-day-old Carla Squatrito was moved to live with her grandmother.

"It was a troubled time," Squatrito recalled during a recent interview in the company kitchen. "It was Italian against Italian … fighting your own people that you played with, went to church with."

Her grandfather, an uncle and a brother were among family members who resisted and hid from the fascists. Still, some of her stronger memories are the family garden in the country and her grandmother teaching her how to make pasta.

"Thin pasta tastes better — it's not so doughy," Squatrito explained.

She still has her grandmother's rolling pin, which, at a quick glance, looks like it could wipe out a wooden police baton. And it's more than just a tool for the family.

The Squatritos exude a certain passion not only for each other and their products, but also for their labor, instruments and techniques. Carla and her sons focus on the technical aspects of maximizing the protein in pasta and keeping it light and flavorful.

As Carla and sons Sandro, 49, and Sergio, 44, shared a recent lunch with colleagues, there was a feeling of fellowship amid the flowing conversations. It was like visiting one's aunt and cousins — for an Italian meal, of course.

The banter included the brothers asserting which one is smarter or better looking. Carla has described her sons as parts of a broccoli and parts of an egg that go together — the broccoli and the stem, the white and the yolk.

Sergio Squatrito, vice president of operations, works with manufacturers to design custom production equipment and ensure the compartmentalized sections of the factory stay clean and safe. Sandro Squatrito was the guy on the road for about 15 years, traveling across the country to build the customer base.

Moving to America

Carla Squatrito traveled to the United States around age 25 and eventually met a young lawyer from Manchester, Dominic Squatrito — now a senior U.S. District judge — whom she eventually married.

She opened her first store in Manchester because of the lack of pasta on that side of the Connecticut River, she said.

The big move came with sales to distributors as consumers became more attracted to her natural ingredients. Distribution, like pasta-making, was a physical and logistical challenge.

Carla initially made deliveries herself in a red Pinto before the company bought two delivery trucks. Distributors, early on, would not represent them until they built up a certain number of customers. Sandro Squatrito's route was driving to Mystic and Watch Hill, Rhode Island on Friday nights. Other routes included Avon, Simsbury, Wethersfield — and New Jersey.

To get that pasta moving, Carla would stand in the middle of an assembly line — between Sandro and a trailer truck driver — passing along 300 to 500 cases of pasta.

Ultimately, they got to about 350 direct customers and the distribution to grocery stores and restaurants took off.

Keeping the team on track, Carla developed a series of statements highlighting her principles. One includes never compromising on quality and staying truthful in your ingredients.

"We don't use artificial ingredients to get to a certain price point," said Mary Beth Rossi, customer-service manager for Carla's Pasta.

As an employee, Rossi said she also enjoys the medical benefits.

"They are top-notch — even my dentist says so," she said.

The Squatrito family's legendary generosity — which includes financial support for employees having children, buying a house and advancing their education — also extends widely to the community.

"These are regular folks who are big, big business people," said Michelle Murphy, executive director of Malta House of Care, a free mobile medical clinic serving adults in Hartford and East Hartford.

Carla's supplies the pasta for Malta House's annual fundraiser. "I don't know if that's why our guests come," Murphy said, "but it certainly doesn't hurt that they know they're having something delicious."

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