Making pasta for nine generations

By Sally M. Snell

 

The Sanmartí family has been producing artisanal pasta since 1700, when Isidre Sanmartí founded Pasta Sanmartí in the village of Caldes de Montbui in the Catalonia region of Spain. Eighth-generation member Carles Sanmartí, 58, heads the company today. His daughter Berta Sanmartí, 32, joined the company four years ago and works in finance and administration.

Berta's fiancé, who was born Alessandro Cafiero but is taking the surname Sanmartí, joined the company three years ago to focus on international business development and communication. "We are still very small," says Alessandro, 32. Father and daughter make decisions together. "Nobody does something before speaking with the other one," Alessandro says. The company has just seven employees: three family members and four non-family members.

Sanmartí produces an egg-free artisanal pasta, using semolina derived from durum wheat and thermal waters tapped from a spring beneath the factory. This water—from the same springs that once served the bathhouses of the ancient Roman Empire—also makes the village a popular spa destination. Between 1,000 and 2,000 people tour the Pasta Sanmartí factory each year, Alessandro says.

Semolina is passed through a filtration system before entering a machine where it is kneaded with thermal water and made into pasta. The thermal water adds a unique character to the pasta, Alessandro says. "There are not many producers or manufacturers who are using hot thermal water," he observes.

The pasta is dried in wooden cabinets and kept at 30 degrees Celsius and 60% to 70% humidity for 48 hours. "We have to check it every four hours," even in the middle of the night, Alessandro says. Because the company is so small, each employee, including patriarch Carles Sanmartí, takes a turn. Pasta Sanmartí produces only 1,000 to 1,200 kilos of pasta a day, just a fraction of its competitors' output. Walking into the factory is "like going back 70 years," Alessandro says.

Sanmartí exports to the U.K., Germany, Portugal and France. The company also makes pasta under private labels in the U.S. Many of its international customers are originally from Spain.

The company does not have an export department, so expanding to new markets is a challenge. But "nowadays exporting is essential for every company," says Alessandro.

The average Spaniard consumes 5 kg (about 11 pounds) annually. "Our core business is here in Spain and especially here in the region of Catalonia," Alessandro says. "Here in Catalonia we are sending to traditional and gourmet food stores."

Alessandro explains that "Years back we just produced 30 types of pasta," but in order to compete with mass producers, today the Pasta Sanmartí catalog features about 60 noodle and macaroni shapes, such as epaguetis, plumetes, estrelles, espirals and trompetesI. One pasta machine is nearly 90 years old, "but it's still in a perfect condition," Alessandro says. A second pasta machine is dedicated to the company's line of vegetable pastas. Sanmartí also makes squid ink pasta using a squid ink paste from Spain's Galicia region, "which is the best region for fish," Alessandro says.

In 2011, Pasta Sanmartí was one of eight companies in Catalonia to receive the Placa al Treball President Macià medal, presented by the Catalan government in recognition of the quality of their products, production methods and tradition.

"The quality of life [in Spain] is nice," Alessadro says. "You have good food, you have good wine. Good weather." But Spain was hit hard by the global financial crisis of the late 2000s and the European sovereign debt crisis. "That is why we're quite happy and proud to still exist, because in the last years so many little family businesses shut down," Alessandro reflects. "But luckily, we are still here and [will] survive hopefully for another 300 years."

Sally M. Snell is a writer based in Lawrence, Kan.



Copyright 2014 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact bwenger@familybusinessmagazine.com.

 

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March/April 2014

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