In New York, Il Mulino (where Bill Clinton and Barack Obama ate pasta together on the one-year anniversary of the Lehman Brothers’ collapse), Emilio’s Ballato (where Leonardo DiCaprio takes beautiful ladies for plates of spaghetti in SoHo), and Patsy’s (where Frank Sinatra had his own table) share noodles. Along with 200 other restaurants around the city, much of the pasta on their menus is made by the Raffetto family.
In 1906, Marcello Raffetto opened a small pasta shop in Greenwich Village. Fourteen years later, he bought a building around the corner, at 144 West Houston Street, moved Raffetto’s there, and passed the business down to his brothers, who then passed it down to their two kids.
In 1972, Marcello’s son, Gino, left his job in finance to take over the family business. His wife, Romana, helped him run it, until she turned it over to her sons, Andrew and Richard, who operate it today. The shop is still at 144 West Houston, and their dried macaroni elbows continue to be stored in the wooden cabinets Marcello built.
In the 1930s, when refrigeration became more common, Raffetto’s began selling fresh pasta. Over one century and three generations, they’ve gone from selling only classic pastas, such as egg noodles, to offering 14 different types, like hazelnut linguine and kale fettuccine. They use the same pasta-cutting machine they’ve had since 1916 to make the new flavors.
Around 2000, Romana began packaging the sauces she made in her apartment, one floor above the store, to sell downstairs. “We have a pink sauce, not a vodka sauce, because she thought vodka had no flavor,” Sarah Raffetto—Marcello’s great-granddaughter, Romana’s granddaughter, and Andrew’s daughter—tells me. “She used cognac.”
In New York, Il Mulino, Emilio’s Ballato, and Patsy’s share Raffetto’s noodles.
Sarah, 32, is the next Raffetto in line. For now, she’s the company’s chief operating officer, which means she does “literally anything and everything.”
“It sounds like a cool fancy title,” she says, “but I’m also scrubbing the bathroom floor and cleaning.”
Before Sarah worked at the store, she grew up living above it. She attended college in Manhattan, and between classes she would take shifts working the register at Raffetto’s. At night, her grandmother taught her how to make pesto and marinara sauce. Once she graduated, in 2013, she started working at Raffetto’s full-time.
After a decade supplying local eateries with Raffetto’s pasta, Sarah fantasized about opening her own place. “Then I started dating someone that owned a restaurant,” she says. Her boyfriend, Stephen Werther, runs Suprema Provisions, an Italian restaurant a few blocks away from Raffetto’s. Real-estate prices were high; the hours were brutal.
And she realized she already had a restaurant space: Raffetto’s.
In February of 2019, she tried turning her family’s small shop into a restaurant by throwing herself a birthday dinner.
Werther converted the front counter into a long dining table by balancing a slab of wood on top of it, and used plates and linens from his Italian restaurant to dress it. They heated up Raffetto’s pre-assembled lasagnas, and friends brought the wine.
The party gave Sarah the idea of hosting regular pasta pop-ups. With the chef Emily Fedner, Sarah hosted her first Petite Pasta Joint dinner—seven courses, 22 spots—later that year.
Dinners start with an amuse-bouche of homemade focaccia with parsley butter and anchovies. Next, two appetizers, one with vegetables, one with cheese. Then the pastas. Three of them—one with red sauce, one with butter or cream sauce, and one with meat sauce. The night ends, of course, with dessert.
The dinners take several days to prepare because Emily and Sarah cook every dish, down to the focaccia, themselves. “We could sit there making pasta, making sauce, talking shit, listening to music for hours,” she says. Their only help is a front-of-house server and a back-of-house dishwasher.
Though Raffetto’s stayed open during much of the pandemic, Petite Pasta Joint—a dinner designed to make eating with total strangers as intimate as possible—went on hiatus for nearly two years. Now it’s back.
Petite Pasta Joint is the only restaurant in town that serves Sarah’s favorite dish, cacio e pepe, where the noodles themselves are infused with black pepper. “We try to do classics with our own twist,” she says. It’s “something that my grandma really instilled in me.”
When Werther asked Sarah if he could sell the black-pepper noodles at his restaurant, she said absolutely not. “He said, ‘I’ll call the factory,’ and I’m like, I will intercept that. This is my thing.”
Reservations for Petite Pasta Joint can be made here
Jensen Davis is an Associate Editor for Air Mail