Northwest NEWS

February 8, 1999

Business

Food served from the heart at Pallino Pastaria

by Deborah Stone

   The concept of home and hearth comes to mind when one dines at Pallino Pastaria, Woodinville's newest eatery.

   Mustard yellow walls, dark woods, colorfully decorated ceramics, a cozy fireplace, and aromas of hearty Italian pasta provide an ambiance of warmth and hospitality. Pallino's specializes in quick-serve pasta dishes, yet seeks to bridge the gap between fast food and fine dining establishments. Food is cheerfully prepared with modern efficiency, yet there is also an emphasis on providing a quality product where taste is important.

   Open barely three weeks, Pallino's is generating that word-of-mouth buzz that indicates something special has arrived in town. The restaurant is the brainchild of CEO and owner Harry Roberts. In the food and retail business for the past thirty-five years, Roberts retired in '96 from Starbucks. where he was vice president of merchandising and promotion.

   "After a year or two of retirement, I grew bored, and started getting ideas for start-up venues," explains Roberts. "I'm fifty-six years old, and there's no reason why I can't start something new again."

   With his Italian background, Roberts had always thought about doing an Italian restaurant, but the decision to go ahead with his idea for a quick-serve restaurant was made based on his discovery of a $20,000 Swiss-made pasta cooker. The cooker can put out a measured portion of 300-degree pasta in ninety seconds. It then is mixed with pre-packaged sauces in a special induction wok pan to produce a dinner.

   "This cooker is amazing in its ability to absorb heat and retain the flavor," says Roberts. "It provides quality and consistency, which is the key to success."

   It took Roberts only a short time to raise the $2,000,000 needed to finance the restaurant. With a team made up of Starbucks veterans, plans were put into action for the January opening of the first Pallino Pastaria, located at Swedish Hospital.

   "This is a slam-dunk location," comments Roberts. "There are 4,000 workers right there and since the day we opened, business has been great, particularly the lunch crowds."

   Roberts knew Woodinville was another ideal place to put Pallino Pastaria. The location he looked at was initially being held by another restaurant chain, but that situation changed and Roberts stepped in to secure the lease.

   "This is the perfect spot," says Roberts. "By being right next to the movie theater, we can draw moviegoers looking for a quick bite to eat."

   The company's future goal is ambitious with plans to open eight more restaurants by the end of this year and a total of 175 restaurants in the next five years. "We're going to put Pallino Pastarias from Vancouver to Los Angeles, all up and down the coast," states Roberts.

   At Pallino's, diners can choose from fifteen different pasta dishes, all homemade and cooked to order, ranging in price from four to six dollars. The restaurant also offers soup, salads, grilled panini sandwiches, and a selection of Italian desserts. A complete coffee service with handcrafted European coffee drinks is offered along with other assorted beverages.

   In addition, a light breakfast menu is available. Customers can eat on the premises or order food to go. Each restaurant has a retail section with packaged foods, Italian-made ceramic dishware, and cookware items.

   Everything at Pallino Pastaria speaks of Italy and the place has an authentic European feel, complete with Italian background music. To create this environment, Roberts and his team traveled throughout Italy, eating, drinking, and soaking up the culture to get ideas for the restaurant.

   "We decided that each Pallino Pastaria would have the same simple storefront design with red wooden doors (soon to be installed at the Woodinville location), a clock in the ceiling, and a handwashing sink right in the restaurant, in plain view of diners," explains Roberts. "We also wanted to make sure we had several long tables to accommodate families and groups."

   The name, Pallino, comes from the old Italian game of Bocce. Pallino is the small clay ball used in the game. "Bocce is a wonderfully fun game and I was taught how to play it by my grandfather," says Roberts. "I even had a Bocce court built on my property. The name brings forth my love of these long-ago games and the great big family meals I've had. I wanted to simulate these feelings in a restaurant where food is served from the heart."

   Pallino Pastaria is open from 7 a.m.- 9 p.m. daily. For information, call 425-424-0500.