Bare Naked Noodles (Shelby County)
The Maker: Linda Croley
Linda Croley has fond memories of making pasta with her Italian grandmother in Brooklyn, New York, as a little girl.
During her 25 years with Wells Fargo, pasta-making became a way of relieving stress and feeding family and friends.
In her retirement, pasta became a pursuit and her Bare Naked Noodles business was born.
“This has just been my passion for years,” Croley said. “I don’t know why I didn’t go to cooking school when I was 25.”
The time spent with her grandmother not only taught Croley to make pasta, but it gave her a taste for good pasta. It’s something she found impossible to find in a box at the grocery store, so she started making her own.
As Croley contemplated taking the steps to turn her hobby into a business, she sipped wine with some of her female friends and asked them what she might name it. “Naked Noodles” was suggested because the pasta was so good, it didn’t need to get dressed with anything. Croley didn’t like the way that sounded, but “Bare Naked Noodles” sounded better to her.
Although the pasta may not need sauce, it was really the sauce that started it all. Croley produced her own tomato sauce, canning a dozen jars at a time to get 60 or 70 jars to take to the Market at Pepper Place in Birmingham. She would sell out each Saturday at the market but she received something more valuable.
Customers offered feedback about what they liked about the sauce and what they would improve. Croley experimented with the recipe before getting to what she thought was the best sauce she’s ever had from a jar.
She also started making dry pastas and was able to get the sauce and the pastas into Piggly Wiggly and Western Supermarkets stores.
Croley had the opportunity to open a café in Riverchase to sell breakfast and lunch, do some catering and make pasta in the kitchen at night. She enjoyed the experience of cooking fresh food, but tried to grow too fast by opening additional locations in SouthBridge and Lakeshore.
“When you have too many things going on and you can’t be in three places at once, quality goes down,” she said. “I never wanted that, so I closed them all last year and I took a chance on this.”
“This” is a 2,000-square-foot kitchen on U.S. 280. There is a small shop in the front known as a “ghost restaurant,” where Bare Naked Noodles sells the sauces and dry pasta and between six and eight prepared entrees (not only pastas or Italian dishes) per day for people to pick up on their way home from work. There are larger frozen classic meals like lasagna for those who might want something different from the day’s menu.
Bare Naked Noodles makes gluten-free and special-grain pastas as well as vegan, vegetarian and Whole 30 meals for those on those diets.
Bare Naked Noodles has also started its own line of infused olive oils with flavors like lemon, rosemary, garlic and basil. She also has a balsamic vinegar and olive oil set imported from Italy.
Although there are a lot of moving parts to Bare Naked Noodles, Croley said she feels like it all goes together and she is able to maintain control on quality.
“Each piece has grown off of the previous piece,” she said. “We’re growing and we welcome feedback when people come in.”
The pastas and sauces are in Piggly Wiggly stores in the Birmingham area and Croley is trying to get added to Publix Super Markets. Both locations of Andy’s Farm Market in the Birmingham area carry pasta and sauces. Bare Naked Noodles still sells at Pepper Place as well as farmers markets at Ross Bridge and Lee Branch.
Bare Naked Noodles produces pasta for eight local restaurants and four country clubs.
Croley said Bare Naked Noodles will expand its line of sauces. The company is working on mild and spicy tomato sauces and a roasted eggplant sauce in jars. The take-home meals also have alfredo and pesto sauces.
If that isn’t enough, Bare Naked Noodles offers cooking classes.
One two-hour cooking class teaches people how to make extruded pastas, filled pastas and hand-rolled pastas. A second class teaches how to make sauces and pair them with pastas.
“I think this is a lost art,” Croley said. “I think people are so used to picking up a box of pasta – two for a dollar at the grocery store – and it’s not nutritious.”
She said making pasta is easy to learn. She did as a little girl at the knee of her grandmother.
Bare Naked Noodles
The product: Dry pasta, jarred sauces, fresh and frozen prepared meals, infused olive oils.
Take home: Freshly prepared chicken marsala ($11.50).
Bare Naked Noodles is at 5511 U.S. Highway 280, Suite 109 in the shopping center next to Edwards Chevrolet.
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