Paul's Pasta still fresh after 30 years
Groton — As a kid, Paul Picken would mow the next-door Ledyard lawn of Paul and Dorothy Fidrych. The Fidryches, owner of Paul's Pasta Shop, would return the favor by bringing over a hotel pan of pasta.
Picken is now 39, and he recalled this memory as he ate lunch at Paul's on Thursday afternoon with a Pfizer co-worker.
Kimberly Thorp, his lunch companion, said Paul's hasn't changed in the decade or so she's been eating there.
"I think that's why it's so good, because you can count on it," she said.
The changes have been mostly limited to the addition of outdoor seating, growth from four to 34 employees and the cessation of selling canned gourmet foods that have since become commonplace in grocery stores, like artichoke hearts.
The changes were made to streamline operations to focus on customers' number-one priority: fresh pasta and a place to eat it. The shop also sells its rolled pasta for $4 a pound — $4.50 for whole wheat, spinach, tomato basil, garlic herb or black peppercorn — and caters.
Having opened on Feb. 8, 1988, Paul's Pasta Shop is celebrating 30 years in business.
Paul, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, and Dorothy, a Johnson & Wales University alumna, met while working at the Harbor View restaurant in Stonington.
At one point, Paul was living in Westbrook and working in Chester while Dorothy was working in Old Lyme, and so they found themselves at Pasta Unlimited in Deep River.
It was the first time Paul had homemade pasta. He loved the flavor and the texture. And he loved that the restaurant had its pasta machine in the window.
Pasta Unlimited served as the inspiration for Paul's Pasta, and the Fidryches are now on their third pasta machine. It sits in the window and churns out pappardelle, fettuccine, linguine, spaghetti and angel hair.
When Paul's Pasta opened, the Fidryches had a 3-month-old son. Now they have three sons, ages 30, 28 and 25, and all have worked at the shop in various positions. One works there now, having recently returned from six months on the Appalachian Trail.
Over the years, Paul and Dorothy Fidrych have seen fad diets come and go, ones that have temporarily kept some from eating pasta. Dorothy on Thursday sported a t-shirt that read "Don't fear the gluten" on the back, though the shop does offer a gluten-free penne dish.
Dorothy said of the customer base, "We have the sub base, we have the Coast Guard Academy, we have EB, a lot of business people."
"The military boys, they really like their chicken alfredo," Paul said. Anything with alfredo is popular among customers in general, and the buffalo mac and cheese has become a recent favorite.
The restaurant gets good publicity from sailors, who travel and tell others about Paul's Pasta.
Of the 18 months he has been with the Navy in Groton, Trevor Meligan has spent the past six going to the restaurant. He's been three times in the past month, considering pasta has been his wife's pregnancy craving.
Anyone who has eaten at Paul's Pasta logically had to have a first time there, but the return rate is so strong one is hard-pressed to find first-time diners. But Paul said he is now starting to see the fourth generation of customers eating there.
To celebrate 30 years in business, Paul said he and Dorothy would go out for dinner — and order pasta.
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