When you approach building a restaurant with a waiter's perspective, you tend to be very much patron oriented.
This was the case with Kevin Holland, who started Pasta Lupino with his wife Kendra Mazzei in 2000.
He had waited tables, tended bars, and worked as a baker at Araxi, but he also had another form of Whistler career experience that came in handy. He was a liftie.
"My job before opening the restaurant was as a lift ops supervisor on Whistler Mountain. In the summers I would pick up restaurant work... the guys start to ask you to do a little bit more, a little bit of prep, as time goes on," Holland said.
As a liftie at Whistler in the '90s, visitors frequently asked him about food.
"As a lift ops guy, you're in the gondola a lot. People were always asking me where to go and eat that wasn't going to cost $300. Whistler is going that way, towards value dining, but at the time the big sit-down places were shooting for that high-end customer," Holland recalled.
"People like that, but when they are on holidays for a week or two... they want to eat something good and less expensive."
Back in 2000, this meant the niche was filled by Pasta Lupino and Splitz Grill across Main Street, he added.
"Originally, our idea was to be more of a deli-style and gourmet food shop. We sold more retail items, but as we got into it we realized that people wanted a restaurant side more... it made sense to put bums on seat," Holland said.
He said Pasta Lupino makes everything in-house in a deli-bistro style.
"We're fairly simple. What we do, we try to do really well," Holland said.
Inspiration comes from Mazzei, whose grandparents hailed from Calabria.
The menu is deliberately tight; Holland said they wanted their selections to be well-made, doing what they know well. It is an approach that has worked for them.
Said Holland: "It is definitely home-style cooking, not haute cuisine by any standard. It's what people would recognize as Italian food: spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, hot Italian sausage, chicken parmesan."
One thing that has varied at Pasta Lupino has been their soups.
"Because our menu is fairly set, that is the interesting part of the job, coming up with new soups," he says.
"That's more in the middle of the summer when you can experiment more with the fresh produce that is available. If there is fresh corn, or tomatoes, or peppers... And the greens, the collards and kale are so nice."
He is proud of Pasta Lupino's menu.
"There's not anything on it that makes me cringe when people order it. Having worked as a waiter in other places, there have been times when there's a table and I've kind of wished they hadn't ordered something. I've never had qualms telling someone that a dish is spicy or recommend something," he says.
Holland has watched Whistler summers becoming busier over the years. This year, they hope to provide more summer-oriented takeaways for diners wanting picnic-style or al fresco meals.
"The Whistler Olympic Plaza has been helpful to us," he says. "People have a nice day and if they want to sit out on the grass, watch their kids play, they can come here and grab some cold salads or picnic-style food and enjoy the outside. We don't have a patio here but we know that people still want to sit outside when it's nice."
Holland said this summer he, Mazzei and their daughter will be driving to Lillooet over the Duffy Lake Road in order to hand pick hundreds of pounds of tomatoes at Old Airport Gardens. The road was in a poor state of repair, so they did not attempt it last summer, but he is looking forward to going back.
"We used to pick about 250 pounds of tomatoes, bring them back and sell them retail. I also make dried tomatoes, make gazpacho, things like that," Holland says.
He is grateful for the support the restaurant has received over the years.
"The community has been very enthusiastic, especially when we first opened," he said. "They've liked seeing a local non-franchise name come in and at the time it was almost Whistler at its boom peak. There was no retail (space), we were lucky to get this spot."
Another thing that has changed, and for the better, has been the treatment of the young people who make Whistler work.
"There seems to be more employee housing available. In the fall, we used to hire and then a month later we'd lose an employee because they have been couch surfing the whole time. It's better for Whistler businesses, too, because of this," Holland said.
Italian Flag Meatballs
This recipe is dead easy, simple, and maybe boring, but it is very good at keeping guests vertical during après ski or biking... etc. Summer time, its moniker is Italian Flag Meatballs (red, green, white), in the winter I go for Shale Slope bake (because they look like moguls).
250 ml tomato pasta/marinara sauce
10-12 golf ball sized pre-cooked meatballs;
cut in half (Equatorially or pole to pole your choice)
100 g shredded provolone and/or mozzarella, or some sort of melty cheese
50 g (grocery store bunch) fresh basil; (or Italian parsley) chopped or chiffonnad
fresh ground pepper
some olive oil
9-10 inch oven safe pan, preferably cast iron.
sliced and toasted, baguette or focaccia bread
Lightly fry meatballs, flat side down, in pan with some olive oil until edges are lightly brown. Remove and wipe out excess oil — don't wash the pan!
Layer 90 per cent of tomato sauce on pan bottom
Place balls flat side down in sauce, layer with 90 per cent of chopped green parsley or basil and top with cheese.
Dot surface with remaining red sauce and a good grind of fresh ground pepper.
Bake or broil till cheese is bubbly and browning on top.
Garnish with remaining greens.
Serve with small bamboo skewers (and /or serving spoon) poking out of them and bread toasts.
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