In The News
May 8, 2013, The Hamilton Spectator, by Dan Kislenko
Hamilton brothers make lasagna, just lasagna
Pretto’s paper-thin pasta, local ingredients have caught customers’ and bloggers’ attention
The best compliment Arvid and Rick Rimkus received was the day one of their regular customers, an older Italian lady, told them she took their lasagna home, threw away the wrapping and served it up to her family without telling them she didn’t make the pasta dish herself anymore.
On another occasion, Arvid was filling the freezer at a local retailer with trays of lasagna when a man picked up a competitor’s product, and a woman — a complete stranger — told him to put it back and to get Rimkus’s brand instead. The man did.
The brothers are the driving force behind Winona’s Harvest and its Pretto’s Pasta label. They make lasagna. Just lasagna. They and many other people in the Hamilton area think it’s the best around.
“It’s the perfect marriage of sauce and pasta,” says Arvid. “We add an extra layer of sauce, two shots not one.”
Adds Rick: “The lasagna is as close to homemade without being homemade.”
The Rimkuses are, of course, a little biased about their pasta. But business is booming, and they’re looking for more. When Arvid bought the Pretto’s Pasta name and “factory” in a small industrial plaza just off Grays Road in Stoney Creek, they could assemble seven trays of lasagna per hour. Now, with an updated production line put together from various mechanical odds and ends, they can finish 500 trays in a day.
They lightheartedly call the facility WPHQ, or World Pasta Headquarters.
The Pretto’s brand has actually been around for almost 50 years, when Rose and Fred Pretto, working over a small stove in this same building in this same room, started making authentic Italian lasagna, tortellini and ravioli. At one point, they sold through the original downtown Fortinos store. When they decided to retire some 10 years ago, Arvid stepped in to buy the business — and Rose’s recipes. He had tried her meat lasagna at Roma bakery and loved it.
The brothers soon decided they should focus on one dish only, and chose lasagna, although they still do make small batches of tortellini and ravioli for themselves. And they still follow Rose Pretto’s recipes to the letter.
“We believe we have a high-quality product. People who like our lasagna go out of their way to find it,” says Arvid. “We are trying to increase quantity but maintain the Pretto quality.”
That has meant investing the last three or four years in technology and building the new assembly line. “There’s a lot of sweat equity here,” says Arvid. “We have lots of capacity now and could increase sales 20 fold.”
They use local ingredients whenever available. The pasta itself is simply unbleached flour and liquid whole eggs. It’s mixed in a big drum and then passes through a jury-rigged roller — an old tortellini machine — and immediately into a long steel trough filled with water and heated from beneath to cook the noodle sheets. The assembly line, which the brothers built themselves, ends with a giant lazy Susan-like device that lets them build up to nine trays of lasagna at a time. The sauce — tomatoes from Leamington, grass-fed beef (if they’re using any for a particular batch) from VG farm in Simcoe — simmers a few steps away in a 200-gallon cauldron they bought from Stoney Creek Dairy when that company folded.
Pretto’s Pasta offers seven different lasagnas. Their signature tray is the traditional Bolognese; then there’s the Queen Of All Lasagna made with spinach pasta, ragu and béchamel; vegetable lasagna with whole-wheat pasta; a drunken shrimp version made with vodka sauce; mushroom lasagna with an Alfredo style sauce; mixed seafood lasagna; and the most exotic creation — butter chicken lasagna, fusing Indian and Italian favourites. The sealed trays are then frozen and ready for sale.
One thing all the lasagnas have in common is also the secret to their popularity.”We make the pasta as paper thin as possible,” says Arvid. He does not exaggerate. The finished pasta sheets are indeed paper thin. That’s what gives them their light texture and creates a lasagna that has the pasta itself as the centrepiece, with the sauce and cheese merely accents for flavour. It’s what you find when you eat lasagna in Italy.
Arvid, an agronomist by profession, and Rick, “you name the job and I’ve done it,” now make lasagna full time and do everything themselves, although if they’re working on a big batch they’ll bring in extra help.
They have no plans to sell directly out the door to consumers. “We’re not set up for anything like that. Plus we like to support other independent local businesses by using them for distribution,” says Arvid.
Still, there is a buzz about Pretto’s Pasta in the social media. There are food blogs from as far away as Vancouver and St. John’s singing the praises of the lasagna (although one West Coaster did miss the geographical mark by a bit and referred to the pasta as coming from Grimsby, not Stoney Creek). The brothers have even shipped trays for a wedding in Hawaii.
Anyone for pineapple lasagna?