About Pasta Plus: Our Story
For the Mazziottis, Max, at left, and brother Sabatino, right, it all began in their native Italy, along the sun-drenched Adriatic coast. They were born and raised in Elice, in the province of Pescara in the Abruzzi region.
During high school, they used their summers productively, working in different restaurants along the breezy seashore. Max waited tables, Sabatino cooked. It was the perfect combination.
In 1967, their father decided to set sail to America. Initially, Max, who by then had built a successful sweater making business, was reluctant to make the trip overseas. But, as it is in the rich, Italian culture, family always comes first. So Max, Sabatino and their mother, Nanella, joined him a year later.
Their voyage aboard the Michelangelo was a long, exciting ride. They knew, on the opposite shore, awaited the land of opportunity.
Once in the United States, the brothers arrived in Washington, D.C., where both landed jobs at the fashionable Madison Hotel downtown, just a few blocks from the White House. As was customary back in Abruzzi, Max waited tables and Sabatino assisted in the kitchen.
The Madison served as their springboard to other positions that sharpened their hospitality skills in their adopted country. Sabatino cooked at the popular Romeo and Juliet restaurant and at the Sheraton Hotel, both in the city. He also gained experience at Georgetown's exclusive Pisces Club and at Mama Regina's restaurant in Silver Spring.
Max, too, worked at the Sheraton. He also added to his resume by waiting tables downtown at the Giardino restaurant and Cantina D'Italia. A bit later, he was named captain of the dining room at the Le Lion D'or, what was then the best-known French eatery in the nation's capital. In culinary circles, it is recognized that only the best of the best achieve the rank of captain. Max had trained well for this high honor.
During their getting acquainted period, the seeds of entrepreneurialship were being planted in the mens' hearts and souls. They dreamed that one day, some how, some way, they would hold the key to the front door of their very own establishment.
One day, they spotted a small ad in the newspaper. It told about a pizzeria that was for sale in Laurel.
Although Laurel was midway to Baltimore, in far northern Prince George's County, they decided it was a perfect place to launch their plan. "We just knew it was right," declared Max, looking back 25 years. "Even though we had never been to Laurel, we had a feeling that the residents there would appreciate good, honest, fresh Italian food."
On a chilly day in February 1983, the brothers opened the doors to the 65-seat Pasta Plus restaurant. "Many people were curious," recalled Max. "They wanted to know why we named it Pasta Plus. The reason was, we wanted to operate a family-owned restaurant that offered inexpensive meals like the fast-food places, but with wholesome, high-quality ingredients. The menu was very limited and offered a few more items than simply pasta." It wasn't long before they realized Laurel needed a better Italian eatery. "Slowly, we started to expand the menu to a regular menu but the name stayed the same," Max adds.
Opening the restaurant was a joyous family affair.
Bright and early each morning, their mother, Nanella ( photo-right), fashioned the golden strands of pasta--and the delectable desserts--that were becoming such crowd-pleasers. Sabatino was supervising the kitchen, while Max, using his warm, European charm, was in charge of meeting and greeting customers. Their father, along with Rosa, Max's wife, also rolled up their sleeves and helped in the dining room, kitchen or any other area where they were needed. Even their aunt Clorinda, their mom's sister, was on hand in the kitchen to help roll out the pasta.
The business was off to a great start! Within only a month, a line of customers was beginning to form on weekends in front of Max and Sabatino's little gem.
Word continued to spread around Laurel and beyond.
Friends began advising friends to save the 40-mile roundtrip to Baltimore's famed Little Italy, and try Pasta Plus instead. The quality was better and so were the prices.
"We were so surprised," admits Max, looking back fondly on the first days in business. "Our fresh pasta, which was made and cooked to order, was some of the best our customers have tasted. They also became passionate about my mother's homemade desserts and the speciality sauces my brother prepared daily. That made all of us believe we were doing our jobs the right way."
Three years after introducing Laurel to down-home Italian flavors, Max and Sabatino realized the dining room was too small to support the entire family. So, they set out in search of a new location in which to satisfy the hungry faithful. In 1986, they found a place in Bowie, 20 minutes away. A year later, their second restaurant, Mare e Monte, opened. But before it opened, Max took time to work behind the line with the rest of the cooks. "You never know when you will be called upon to step in," he says. "It's so important for an owner to know how to do every job." Indeed, it was time well spent. There were many times when Max was called upon to work behind the line.
Once Mare e Monte was up and running, Max and Sabatino made a delightful discovery: the vacant space next door to Pasta Plus was available. It didn't take long for them to take the plunge and buy it, knowing it would be the ideal addition for the future.
In 1999, their dream of expansion came true when they opened Pasta Plus Carry-Out Market. The carry-out market dishes up many items that are on the restaurant menu, along with other delicacies. From wine to fresh
pastas and Italian sweets, it's all here.
Over the years, at Pasta Plus, the brothers installed a brick wood-burning oven, imported from Italy, to cook specialty pizzas. That, too, attracted an instant following, as did the homemade bread the family began baking in 2001. And for nearly 20 years now, the brothers have been sponsoring wine dinners and annual trips to Italy and its colorful regions. Those, too, are constantly finding new fans.
In 1992, Nanella, the family matriarch, was diagnosed with cancer. She passed away six months later. "We miss her very much," Max says softly. "She was, in so many ways, the backbone of our family and our business. She was always strong, always supportive, always full of love for everyone around her."
Amid the whirlwind of the past 25 years of serving their customers, the brothers have forged hundreds of deep and meaningful friendships. They have been the subject of dozens of reviews in newspapers, magazines and on radio. The highlight of the media attention came when, in 2001, the restaurant was profiled on the Food Network!
Despite the challenges inherent in any business, from delivery drivers who arrive late with orders to dishwashing machines that break down after many years of service, Max knows it's all "part of the pleasure of serving our wonderful customers. Looking back, answering that little ad in the newspaper and following through on it was the best decision Sabatino and I have ever made. We are so very fortunate."