We had the good fortune of connecting with Leah Ferrazzani and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Leah, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I grew up in a household where failure wasn’t an option–not because we weren’t allowed to fail, but because of how my parents characterized our missteps. Every mistake, false start or poor choice was an opportunity to learn something about ourselves or the world. We weren’t taught this through platitudes, but through encouragement to put ourselves out there and through watching the ways our folks did the same, particularly my dad. I was just 13 when he had to close the business that had brought us to California from New York, but I didn’t see my father despair. I saw him dust himself off, and turn himself into an operations guy at a multi-national company. He was scrappy, and I think I inherited that from him. Throughout my twenties, taking risks meant moving a lot. Picking up and starting over in seek of an opportunity or a respite was always a chance to reinvent myself, a chance to take in all I’d learned about being me in one place to create a more authentic, happier, version of myself somewhere else. Starting Semolina Artisanal Pasta was an opportunity to take the same kind of risk without relocating. It meant I had to recreate myself, using all of my previous experiences to guide me. I’d never started a business before. I taught myself how to make and dry pasta, taught myself how to market a brand, sell into grocery, get certified organic. I never thought I couldn’t do something, and I think that’s because my risk taking muscle had been so thoroughly exercised. Failure wasn’t (and still isn’t) and option, it’s all just a chance to learn.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
I am the founder and head pasta maker at Semolina Artisanal Pasta. We make small batch fresh and dried pasta that we sell at our retail shop in Pasadena, at gourmet markets and grocers like Whole Foods, Bristol Farms and Erewhon, and also to Los Angeles restaurants. The business is an extension of myself–it’s about feeding people something delicious made with love and integrity. Our pastas are better than our competitors because we take our time, prioritizing taste and texture over expedience. I started the business in 2014 out of my laundry room, and it’s been quite the learning experience. First I had to learn how to make and dry pasta, but then I had to figure out labeling and packaging and how to get onto store shelves, then I had to learn how to get certified organic, how to market a brand, how to train people to do something that I could hardly explain myself. I’ve learned thermodynamics, how to fix an air compressor and how to operate a forklift. It’s never easy, but it keeps me on my toes. Most of the time I overcome obstacles by sheer force of will, gathering information and then being really tenacious. But I’ve tried to do it all with grace and humility and kindness. I’ve always struggled to find the brand’s tagline, but Covid has put things into perspective. As a pasta maker making really delicious pasta, my brand is a source of comfort in uncertain time. So if the world is to remember Semolina I hope that it’s that our pasta is like a warm hug from your grandma.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Oh jeeze! It’s hard to think about this during a pandemic. I would take my friend to the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers’ Market and the Sunday market in Hollywood. I’d make sure we got a meal at Jitlada and one at Badmaash and a pambazo from Metro Balderas in Highland Park, pizza at Mozza and out for my pasta at Hippo. I’d take them hiking out by the beach, and at Debs, and then I’d head up to Los Alamos to drink at A Tribute to Grace and Lo-Fi and eat at Bell’s. We’d hit a few sites in for wine in Lompoc too.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Christine Moore of Little Flower Candy Co. is my Shero. She has been an incredible mentor since the brand’s early days. She’s been especially insightful and helpful with the challenges of being an owner/operator and a mom.
Mikaela Hamilton (photo of me) Shanely Kellis (food photos)