By Valerie Hardy 

Though neither is Italian, Jon and Mary Beth Mulholland created a lucrative pasta business lauded for its products’ authenticity, efficiency, and – most importantly – taste. The Naperville couple headquartered their gourmet-flavored pasta business in Downers Grove, but over the past few years, the brand has made a name for itself nationwide. Mary Beth Mulholland joined Downers Grove Magazine’s contributing editor, Valerie Hardy, to dish about all things Pasta Pappone and its recipe for success.

Pasta Pappone’s best-selling Lemon Pepper Fettuccini is flavorful enough to stand on its own but pairs perfectly with shrimp. Photo by Hello Leno Photography

Downers Grove Magazine: How did you decide to start a pasta business?

Mary Beth Mulholland: It was Jon’s brainchild when he was in grad school in 2011. He had seen flavored pasta at a farmers market one summer and thought it was something he could do and do really well. He was getting his MBA and decided to see if it had proof of concept. Jon had recently started the business when I met him, and I started going along to shows and markets, including the Downers Grove Farmers Market, which was our first one.

DGM: How did Pasta Pappone grow from local farmers markets to grocers throughout the midwest and beyond?

MBM: When we started selling flavored pasta, people said they hadn’t seen anything like it before and would come back for more. From the Downers Grove Farmers Market, we expanded to other suburban and Chicago farmers markets. We began to have interest from stores, and it started our wheels turning. We started with some small, local boutiques and Casey’s in Naperville, and Mariano’s was our first major grocery partner.

Mariano’s started a program to carry local vendors. We had to pitch to their team, and they asked us to get six flavors into 44 of their locations in two months. Jon was like, “We’ve got this!” That launch three years ago was a game-changer!

We actually visited all 44 stores to see how the product was merchandised. It was sitting sideways on the shelf, which wasn’t great. We bought 200 metal bookends we hot-glued together to better showcase our product, then went back into the stores and put in our solution. Mariano’s Corporate Vice President of Grocery said that our “solution” was the best thing we could have done for our product: we became the top-selling brand on the rack featuring local products and were moved to the main pasta aisle. A benefit of staying scrappy!

DGM: Where else is Pasta Pappone carried?

MBM: Our pasta is available on our website and in various stores. After Mariano’s, Whole Foods (Illinois) picked us up and so did Jewel (Illinois and Indiana), which added 150 stores to our list. An east coast chain also picked us up, and we’re launching in all of the Whole Foods in the midwest. We went from a single farmers market stall to over 400 grocery store locations!

DGM: Do you and Jon both work for Pasta Pappone full-time, and what’s it like working together?

In the past year, Pasta Pappone switched from plastic packaging to boxes to better showcase the product along with recipe information and cooking instructions. Photo by Garrett Sweet

MBM: I left my full-time job as the Marketing Director for Chicago Public Library five years ago to help scale Pasta Pappone. Two years ago, Jon came over full-time. We’ve been together 12 years and married nine (we gave out Pasta Pappone at the wedding), but it can be a challenge to work with a spouse. We made it work by leaning into each other’s strengths. We’re form (me) and function (him), so we’re well-paired that way. I’m so proud to have built this with Jon.

 

MBM: Pasta Pappone has herbs, vegetables, and spices already in the pasta, so all you need to do is boil water, add butter, extra virgin olive oil, or sauce, and dinner is ready. It makes mealtime simpler but still delicious. We say it’s effortlessly gourmet. Our pastas are certified organic, slow hang-dried for better texture, and bronze-cut to hold sauce.

DGM: What are your best-selling products?

MBM: Our best sellers compete with one another: Lemon Pepper Fettuccine, Garlic & Onion Fettuccini, and Spinach Basil Garlic Fettuccini. My favorite is the Thai Citrus Ginger Linguini, though. I like to add some orange zest, ginger, a touch of cayenne pepper, and butter.

For more information about Pasta Pappone, recipes, or to make an online pasta purchase, visit PastaPappone.com.

Pasta Pappone owners Mary Beth and Jon Mulholland with their children, Henry and William

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