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May 31, 2020

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15 minutes with Alee Gratz-Collier

About starting her own business - River Valley Pasta

Alexandria (Alee) Gratz-Collier graduated from BHS in 2004, and went to college at Woodbury University in Burbank, California. She (along with her business partner) is the force behind River Valley Pasta, a home-made pasta company.

The Icon sat down with Gratz-Collier to hear a bit more about her life and business venture.

What have you been up to since graduating from BHS? Where are you based now?
Since college, I have been working in the service industry in Findlay. No kids, but a VERY proud aunt. I'm not married, and am living in Findlay.

How did River Valley Pasta come about?
My boyfriend and business partner, Mike Anderson, is a cook in local restaurants and we really enjoy cooking, researching, and eating food together. We had both learned the basics of pasta making while working in kitchens around town and took those basics and started making our own pasta at home.

We are were so impressed with ourselves (humble brag) that we started experimenting with that recipe. We tried different types of flours, egg to flour ratios, and then one day we mixed in pureed roasted beet to the pasta mix and we knew we had something special and different from other pasta products out there. 

From there we decided it would be fun to sell homemade pasta on the side at local farmers markets. We did our research, had our home kitchen inspected for a home bakers license and signed up for the Bluffton Farmers' Market. At that time we were still making everything by hand.

Flash forward two years, we have grown so quickly that we have an industrial machine to help in the process, are at four farmers markets a week, in four stores, one restaurant, and have over ten different flavors of pasta!

Where does the name - River Valley Pasta - come from?
We wanted to pay homage to our area and Blanchard River Valley Pasta doesn’t sound too appetizing, does it?

Without giving away any trademark secrets, how do you make pasta? Walk me through the basics to inform those of us who only know pasta as something that comes in a bag or box from the grocery store.
Basically, pasta is a mixture of flour and water or flour and eggs. We use a combination of all-purpose flour and durum wheat flour mixed with eggs, salt, and whatever vegetable, herb, or spice we are flavoring the pasta with.

If you compare homemade pasta directly to store-bought box, you will taste and feel a difference in the texture. Box pasta is typically just flour and water and then quickly dried. Besides our vegan varieties, all our pasta is made with egg and slow dried. This creates a better texture to the pasta that absorbs your sauce and creates an even more delicious flavor! Also, a lot of box pasta use flavorings, powders, and dyes to their “flavored” pasta. We do not, we want to make sure the customer is getting the real deal, the real flavor of the ingredients!

Is your kitchen perpetually covered in flour, and pasta hanging to dry? 
This year we upgraded some equipment so we can make larger batches of pasta and cut down on flour waste, so luckily the kitchen isn’t too bad, but yes… our dining room is now the “pasta room” and is covered in drying racks, our farmers market gear, bags, and labels!

How long does it take for you to make one batch of pasta?
When we first started, we did every step by hand and it would take us over 2 hours to produce one batch of pasta, which was around 5-7 bags worth. Now, we can make about 14 bags of pasta in 1 hour, plus dry time.

Where can we buy your pasta?
Our pasta is available at The Food Store in Bluffton, Thistle Exchange in Findlay and The Butcher & Grocer in Grandview Heights. Our vegan pastas can be found in stock at all three, plus Juice Co. stores across Columbus and on the menu at The Table in the Short North. You can also catch us at the Bowling Green Farmers' on Wednesdays, Hancock County Farmers' Market on Thursdays, and both Bluffton and Toledo Farmers' Markets on Saturday mornings. We post our schedule to our Facebook and Instagram every week.

Entrepreneurship is not for the faint-hearted. Have you always wanted to start your own business? 
We have both worked for many small businesses and have seen how much work goes into it, and you’re very right… it's not for the faint-hearted and can be incredibly hard, but also very rewarding. We love to work hard for something that we feel passionate about!

What do you do in your spare time, when you're not cranking out pasta?
Currently Mike cooks in the kitchen of a downtown Findlay restaurant and I also own my own social media marketing company. So we keep busy with more work! When we aren’t working, we’re at home tending to our garden, traveling as much as we can, cooking, and creating new recipes with our pasta (which can be found on our website).

Got any future plans, for yourself and/or the business?
We have A LOT of ideas right now, but in the near future we hope to expand our business to more stores and restaurants in Ohio and just keep doing what we love!