Before meeting with Kassia, Chief Pasta Slinger and Pedal Pusher of Kassia’s Pasta Farm, I read an article about one of my esteemed former professors. George DeMartino of the Korbel School presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland earlier in the year. No, he was not discussing the value of seasonality in gluten-free ravioli. But one of his statements stuck with me through my discussion with Kassia:
“[E]conomists have taught that the duty of business leaders is just to maximize profits for shareholders and that they are justified in securing extraordinarily high salaries. We’ve taught they needn’t concern themselves with any broader social obligations.”
While this assessment rings true in much of corporate America, I was greeting a new breed of business leader at her home in the Five Points Neighborhood of Denver. She was perched on her bicycle, commuting back from her day job, and ready to discuss pasta…(though only after greeting her cat who patiently awaited her arrival on the porch).
The bicycle, I later discovered, was essential to her pasta delivery. Rigged with jumper cables, a net and a lightweight cooler, she transports pasta to markets like Denver Handmade Homemade where we recently met. Within the Denver area, she delivers ravioli and pasta direct to clients’ doors. What service (without smog)! (As for her cat, I could not decipher a clear role in the operation other than the obvious – providing unconditional support of Kassia’s pasta endeavors.)
Kassia, like so many young emerging food leaders, did not follow the typical path of culinary studies or restaurant management. At the time of her business launch, October 2011, she worked as a barista in a neighborhood coffee shop. In her young adult life, she fully embraced her Polish-German heritage by whipping up sauerkraut and pierogi. Pierogi creations quickly morphed into ravioli experiments and when her gluten-free roommate caught wind, she convinced Kassia to invent some tasty gluten-free concoctions. Her roommate loved them, her friends loved them and soon coffee shop regulars were asking Kassia for special orders of savory and sweet raviolis.
While Kassia’s business chronicle could have branched off in the direction of growth projections, profit maximization, and 10-year investment plans – her unfolding story is uniquely tied to her beliefs in sharing good food with anyone and everyone. (And share she does; I walked away with ravioli bursting with kale and wild mushrooms.) Kassia dreams of a pasta truck or small café but her primary goal is to allow the business to grow organically and maintain commitment to artisanal, homemade pasta.
Kassia’s pride in the pasta process begins before any dough is rolled out (did I mention entirely by hand?) – she emphasizes ingredient seasonality and demands full transparency from her sources. A talented urban farmer herself, Kassia understands the limited growing seasons in Colorado and knows what is required from certified organic agriculture (and beyond). Nobody will ever see a cranberry bog in Colorado, but they might get some organically grown Vermont cranberry accents in their ravioli. Kassia, food lover – educator – business owner, values where each ingredient comes from and why.
“When I’m shopping for ingredients at the market, I want to know everything about it. If I’m putting people on the spot, I’m asking the right questions.” Kassia wishes all farmers would use their role to educate rather than make sales using meaningless labels. “Labels are tossed around…I wish food producers would be literal. Say what you are and what you mean.”
I wonder how many executives in Davos share Kassia’s passion for transparency, education, and go-with-the-flow business model? Perhaps my mentor to can take Kassia’s “labor of love” philosophy straight to Davos?
Eat my words – mangia i ravioli buoni.
Summer 2012 Denver Food Warrior
This post is from one of the interns in the Real Time Farms Food Warrior Internship Program. These interns are collecting data, pictures, and video on the growing practices of our nation’s farms, gathering food artisans’ stories, and documenting farmers markets. We all deserve to know where our food comes from! Boring legalese we feel we must include: this was written by a real live person who has their own opinions, which we value, but that do not necessary reflect, though they may (or may not), reflect the values and opinions of Real Time Farms. That is for you to guess and us to know.