Melissa Meo has had more than 16 years of hospitality experience, but her passion for food cooked at home with loved ones stems from her Italian background. “There are a lot of beautiful Italian restaurants in the city, which, of course, I love to go to,” she tells Broadsheet. “But, for me, being raised in an Italian household, Italian food resonates more with being at home with your family and being around the table.”
It’s with this image in mind that she’s opened Stracci, her pasta store in Auckland’s Westmere shops. She’s selling high-quality, fresh, handmade pasta for people to cook at home.
Meo co-founded Hobsonville cafe and bistro Fabric in 2018, and when she sold her share in 2021, moved into hospitality operations. But the idea for Stracci formed – and such was her conviction in her vision that she left her job to make it happen.
“I knew this was where I wanted to be,” she says of the location, on Garnet Road in the same block as Ragtag, near Westmere butcher and Seabreeze cafe. In what she describes as “kismet”, the day after she quit work, she went for a drive to Westmere. “I parked up and, literally to my left, the shop that I parked in front of had a ‘for lease’ sign on it, and I was like, ‘That’s it; that’s the shop’.”
Stracci’s pasta selection is led largely by what the team feels like making. There are always staples like pappardelle, and a changing selection of extruded pastas from the machine such as bucatini and rigatoni. Filled pastas are available, too. Meo says ravioli alla caprese is dear to her heart because her dad showed her how to make it after learning from an Italian lady in the family’s hometown of Massa Lubrense – near Sorrento just south of Naples. It’s filled with ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan and basil.
“[On] the weekend we did a goat’s cheese agnolotti; we did some beautiful pork-filled tortellini … We're just playing around [and] having a great old time,” says Meo. “It's a lot of fun, because the options are just endless.”
Stracci also sells a bunch of sauces to make your handmade pasta sing, including puttanesca, all’amatriciana, beef ragu and pork ragu. Some people are more confident with what they’ll pair their pastas with, says Meo, and others aren’t as clued up, so the ready-made sauces are a great option for them.
The freezer is packed with Italian dishes such as lasagne, tiramisu and semifreddo – everything you’d need to have an Italian feast at home while doing none of the work. And the retail shelf stocks high-quality staples like olives, anchovies and arborio rice.
The space is simple, with the main pasta bench set in the middle, just behind the front counter. Meo loves having face-to-face contact with customers while she’s shaping pasta through the day. “I can actually be out there when I'm making the pastas, just talking to people and chatting through what's going on,” she says. “And if people want to learn, I'm more than happy to teach them, so it can be quite an interactive experience for the customer.”
Ozone coffee is made on a green machine that matches the shop’s exterior – and there’s a window leaner to come with a couple of stools, so you can wolf down one of Stracci’s fresh cannoli or bomboloni (an Italian doughnut). Meo’s also planning on adding a daily deli sandwich to the menu for passers-by who want to grab lunch, and is considering a hot pasta to go. But the lovingly made pasta will remain the flagship product.
“The supermarket stuff isn't up to par, in my view. So, I just wanted some really amazing handmade quality products that people can enjoy at home, and have a bit of a special occasion in that way.”
Wed to Fri 7.30am–5.30pm
Sat & Sun 7.30am–3.30pm