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At This Italian Restaurant, Pasta Isn't the Only Plus

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

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Pasta Plus Chef Sabatino Mazziotti shows off some fresh pasta!

Sabatino Mazziotti leans over the hot stove and pours olive oil into a pan. A smile crosses his face as the oil sizzles in readiness for his next meal: veal with prosciutto (thinly sliced Italian ham), mozzarella and basil.

It's almost lunchtime at Pasta Plus, an Italian restaurant and market in Laurel where Mazziotti has reigned as chief chef since 1983. In minutes the doors will open. When they do, the handmade pasta has to be ready, the meat has to be tenderized and the tomato sauce has to be simmering.

Mazziotti takes great pleasure in seeing it all come together.

There is tradition to his art. Some of his recipes he learned from his mother while growing up in Italy. But it wasn't until he came to the United States 40 years ago that he began cooking for a living.

He perfected his skills by learning from other chefs where he worked. It's important to try several cooking styles before opening your own restaurant, he says, because "you pick up a little from everywhere."

Sabatino Mazziotti was a sweater-maker in Italy before he came to this country in his early 20s with his parents and older brother, Massimo. Sabatino found work in various restaurant kitchens where he first learned English and, later, Spanish.

Twenty-four years ago, the brothers opened Pasta Plus.

Operating a successful restaurant is not easy. Pasta Plus is open six days a week (it is closed Mondays), and the market is open every day. That keeps the Mazziottis busy running a staff of about 50 people.

At first, Sabatino worried that the stress of the business would lead to family feuds, but that hasn't happened.

"I have never had an argument with my brother. Never," he says.

The toughest part of operating a business, he says, is how much time it requires. "Any kind of business, you have to sacrifice yourself. It's not easy if you have a family. You are not able to spend as much time with them as you want."

The business has continued as a family affair. His mother and aunt used to make the pasta. Now his two sons work at the restaurant part-time.

Sabatino or Massimo has to be at the restaurant every morning to open the doors, and one of them is always there at closing time. The brothers, now in their 60s, each work 60 to 70 hours every week. If one of their employees can't make it to work, the Mazziottis have to be ready to fill in -- no matter what the job is.

"Any type of business [you] want to open, [you] have to know everything," Sabatino says. "You have to be [in] control and tell [people] what to do, and in an emergency you have to step in."

The reward is seeing the business prosper.

"In the long run," he says, "it's worth it."

-- Amy Orndorff

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