Written by Deena Douara
What could be a film synopsis is also the story behind Toronto’s Alimentari pasta.
Those days of fresh ingredients, a slower pace and communal meals on the farm — “a beautiful, simple life” spawned the artisanal pasta business the Terpstras created together, focusing on fresh, local, and above all else, delicious Italian food.
The “boy” here is Christopher Terpstra, who grew up between Regina, Toronto and Italy, traveling frequently with his historian father and absorbing the Mediterranean lifestyle. It was a way of life he appreciated, the way Italians ate and shopped, prioritizing fresh, quality ingredients. As young as 12 years old, he recalls going alone to the butcher shop in Siena to learn how to prepare cuts and then making them for the family.
“There’s something in Italy that’s not even just about the food but about the mealtime and time spent together,” says Christopher.
He began working in restaurants in Toronto, even helping to open the renowned Buca restaurant. Despite the restaurant’s success, though, he couldn’t shake his longing for a simpler, rustic life. So he went to Tuscany, where he had trained before, learning how to raise livestock and making salumi and prosciutto to sell at farmer’s markets.
Three weeks after returning to the farm years later, Sarah showed up.
Sarah was an American living in New York. She had studied nutrition and culinary arts and was working toward her goal of opening a Manhattan eatery.
Over many weeks of shared glasses of wine and family-style meals with staff of the agro-tourism hotel they stayed at, Sarah and Christopher opened up about what they sought out of life. Family ranked high for both, as well as wanting to be business owners.
“We wished we could bring this feeling of sharing and gathering real, simple food to a place like Toronto,” says Sarah. Despite their idyllic surroundings, Toronto was the natural place to start their lives together.
They would begin with pasta: “as local as possible” ingredients, including Amber durum wheat from Alberta and eggs from Ontario pastured chickens and ducks to produce offerings like tortelli di zucca, gnocchi sardi, duck egg bucatini, spinach malfadine and wild leek bavette to pair with their tomato and pesto sauces.
The pasta is fresh (not dehydrated), and is carefully extruded through special bronze and brass heads that leave pasta rough and absorbent. Alimentari also offers pasta made with alternative grains like red fife wheat, ancient durum, and buckwheat.
Most recently, after selling wholesale and at farmer’s markets, the pair decided to open their own Italian grocer that will host cooking classes and will sell pastas and sauces, sandwiches, prepared dishes and complementary products like anchovies and olives.
The Terpstras admit that starting a business while adjusting to life as new parents has been challenging and stressful, but Sarah says they have no regrets — at least they are in control of their own destiny. To lessen the stress, they turned to the Starter Company Program. Funded by the Province of Ontario and delivered by the City of Toronto, the program gave them an opportunity to work with a business mentor.
“Our advisor Andrew Patricio is super knowledgeable and really entertaining. I really liked learning from him,” says Sarah.
“He has so many stories of small business owners, people he’s worked with; he’s seen every type of entrepreneur in every type of industry.”
She says Patricio was always available and happy to advise, in or out of program hours.
Particularly beneficial were the templates, which helped produce financial forecasts and cashflow statements the pair hadn’t dealt with before. Sarah says specifics on hiring practices and even how to make meetings efficient and ensure staff feel heard are all going to be key as they begin hiring for their new storefront.
The Alimentari Italian grocery shop will open this season on Roncesvalles Avenue. Six-month-old Hugo may or may not be working opening day.