Lilly and her husband, Giovanni D’Alelio, ran a graphic design studio in Genoa, Italy, but turned their sights toward a new start in the United States. Logistics were complicated, and prospects were uncertain – by what ultimately came down to a leap of faith, Lilly, Giovanni, and their three young children arrived in the U.S. in 1986 with little more than the clothes on their backs and a dream, they gambled, that would outweigh their debts.
Lilly quickly saw the opportunity to turn her traditional pasta making into a culinary living. Pasta was just starting to be positioned as an elegant, gourmet food in the U.S., long portrayed merely as quick and budget-friendly (she’ll recount, with slight horror, finding no ravioli in her first visits to the U.S. other than those eaten out of a can).
The beginning was full of hardship, and the family faced struggles that would send most entrepreneurs running back to the comfort and unrealized dreams of their past life. Giovanni found factory work and Lilly sewed skirts while they searched for a workspace; she describes exhausting months of sewing in her basement all through the night, just to get by.
Finally, in April of 1986, Lilly’s Gastronomia Italiana opened its doors.
The battle was still uphill. Giovanni went door to door tirelessly offering samples to local restaurants and hotels, while Lilly worked long hours perfecting her pasta (continuing to sew all night to make ends meet). And soon, the response came – Lilly’s cooking spoke for itself, and the immediate favorable reception was overwhelming.
She remembers the first order that came in – exactly seven hundred and sixty-seven dollars (and seventy-six cents), she’ll tell you – and simply collapsing in prayer, relief, and gratitude by the gravity of the event. The realization that bills would be paid that month. That her children would drink milk that hadn’t been stretched out for days with water. That, though humble in its beginnings, the dream had come to life.
The couple still exhausted themselves to nurture their growing customer base and lift their family out of poverty, their struggles compounded when Giovanni sadly passed away in 1991. Lilly kept her nose to the grindstone at yet another time when most would have given up; she continued to amass customers with her truly excellent pasta, creative recipes, and a willingness to collaborate with chefs for specialty dishes (a unique business model the company still boasts).
Italians have a saying, “Tra il dire e il fare c’e di mezzo il mare:” there is an ocean’s difference between saying something and actually doing it. Many fantasize about “achieving the dream,” but few have the gall to make it happen. What was Lilly’s secret? Ask, and she’ll tell you simply:
Lilly’s Fresh Pasta has grown into one of the northeast’s finest and most beloved pasta manufacturers, and has spread from its narrow (yet devoted) North End base all throughout New England, the mid-Atlantic, and now the Midwest U.S.
But as for the pasta? Don’t worry – that will never change.
Lilly still oversees all production to make sure the pasta is made exactly the way it should be: the way it always has been. To this day, she employs traditional pasta making techniques and only uses the highest quality ingredients, refusing to cheapen her craft with inferior flours, fillers, or preservatives. Ravioli fillings are made from scratch in the factory kitchens from whole, clean ingredients – no can openers or shortcuts required.
It’s this religious commitment to serving quality food that maintains Lilly’s fanbase across the northeast. Lilly’s customers are some of the most devoted you’ll ever see in wholesale: they know the degree of flavor, texture, and culinary excellence they can expect from Lilly’s pasta, and won’t even entertain the idea of serving another brand. It’s not that Lilly’s pasta simply wins over competitors – there are no true competitors. It’s pasta the way Mama made it, and it’s nearly impossible to recreate.
“Always fresh, never precooked since 1986” – in the context of Lilly’s inspiring history, the humble motto almost sells it short. But it, too, is a testament to never giving up: never giving up your process, never giving up your values, and never, ever giving up your dreams.
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