It's amazing how much pleasure a small serving of lemon ricotta ravioli can bring. That's the power of well-textured, al dente dough surrounding a sweet, soft filling. Italians have harnessed that power for generations, but even without that heritage Megan Manning has found her calling. At Little Lakewood Pasta Company (15613 Detroit Ave., 216-889-7966, littlelakewoodpasta.com) she marries classic pastas with smart and savory flavors.
From Chocolate Penne to Sriracha Spaghetti, Manning's special flavor selections come in bagged bundles ready to be submerged in boiling water. While the flavors don't sound traditional, everything about the process is done the authentic Italian way: hand cut with fine brass dies and using locally sourced ingredients when possible. Both the fettuccine and spaghetti are vegan-friendly and small-batch, using three cups of flour or less at a time.
Inspired by a recent trip to Italy, Manning feels her fiv-year-old business is on the right path. "As a chef and a cook, you're always trying to strive to do better, so I'm really excited about where I'm at right now," she says, adding that she's always experimenting with new flavors and shapes.
The storefront is true to its name: little but eye-catching, with a bright red accent wall and Manning's motto — "Eat, live & love pasta" — proudly displayed behind the counter. She has rented the space since 2014, after winning the Startup Lakewood Ideation Challenge and securing a loan to start a commercial kitchen. Located next door to Nature's Oasis, she couldn't have chosen a more prime place for her specialty foods store.
"I was increasing my business from selling at one farmer's market to five the following summer and making way too much production out of my home," she explains. "I got to the point that many food vendors do, where I needed to take my home-based business to the next level." Manning continues to participate in numerous seasonal markets, however, expanding her clientele and meeting more neighbors.
In an attempt to assist other small businesses with access to production at a low overhead cost, Manning decided to open up her licensed kitchen to other food entrepreneurs. Several vendors now make themselves at home at the Little Lakewood Pasta Company, which doubles as the Lakewood Community Kitchen.
Pleather, a vegan jerky company, as well as Desperate Measures Baking, JR's Smokehouse Rub, Trish's Truffles & Sweets, and Rutt Baking Co. all operate out of the space and sell retail out of the showroom. Double ovens, a commercial fridge, freezer, drying racks and plenty of prep area fill up the expansive rear space while the basement houses the dry goods storage. The kitchen is impeccably clean for the amount of use it sees.
"Not only have we doubled the amount of vendors in the last two years, but their businesses have been taking off," says Manning. "With seven vendors, we're going to start needing more space and some big ticket items that we can't really afford to get on our own."
No stranger to business pitches and sales, the owner/operator has entered the FedEx small business grant competition in hopes of expanding the community kitchen. Top prize is $25,000. The top 100 entries, as voted on by internet users, will be announced April 13 and the grant winner on April 25. "We want to supply our vendors with everything they need to make their product to sell to the public," she says.