Anthony Barresi and David Sedacca are the creators and founders of Pasta Life, the first and only 100% plant-based, gluten-free and biodegradable pasta straws - an eco-friendly, durable solution to plastic and paper straws. It was launched in 2019 with a mission of bringing like-minded people together to eliminate single-use plastic through PASTA, Anthony and Dave worked tirelessly to build the brand while working full-time gigs.
Pasta Life is now quickly becoming popular across the country, the founders have had to unexpectedly pivot their business model amid the hospitality industry closures. Instead of focusing on wholesale sales, they’ve worked to make their products available for direct-to-consumer purchases and created a unique PPE mask and straw package to serve customers current needs.
Was it a lightbulb moment or gradual moment to start Pasta Life ?
Paper straws absolutely suck, we all know that, and don’t even get us started on plastic straws. One night, Dave and I were sipping on a few cocktails in my kitchen and in less than 10 minutes we had soggy paper straws in our drinks -- trash! After hours of conversation and ideation around how we can make paper straws better, the Italian in me said why not PASTA? People love pasta. Long rigatoni would make the perfect straw, and that’s when we had our lightbulb moment. The next day we were back in my kitchen rolling out fresh dough and cooking up our first prototype. We took the pasta straws to a few bars and restaurants in Manhattan and we knew we had something when people and bar managers kept coming up to us asking where they could purchase our product.
How did you get your first three customers?
We hustled to build out our first owned and operated eCommerce site to kickoff Pasta Life and share our product with the world. Our family (mainly our moms) and friends were the first to purchase our gluten-free pasta straws in September 2019
How did you validate the idea?
We cooked up long rigatoni pasta straws in my apartment. The very next day we hit NYC hard going to bars and restaurants to hand out our new pasta straw concept. Everyone fell in love with the idea; bar managers asked where they can purchase, consumers wanted to buy on the spot.
Did you have any experience/expertise in the area?
If we’re talking about pasta years, then I have about 20+ years of fresh pasta making experience. It’s in my blood. My family has been making homemade pasta for generations. Dave and I have a combined 20+ years of experience in Corporate America across finance, operations, creative, and marketing which provided us with the competitive edge and know-how to quickly turn Pasta Life from kitchen concept to a fully fledged business in less than 6 months.
Have you raised any money? How much?
We have boot strapped the company thus far investing our own money in the company and reinvesting profits to continue to innovate. Pasta Life will be looking to take in outside investors later this year as we expand our product portfolio, distribution, and operations.
What regulatory approvals did you have to go through?
From kitchen concept to mass production we had to find a production partner and after an enormous amount of effort to stay in the US, we couldn’t find the right partner with the capabilities to support our initiative. We were hesitant to produce our product overseas, but ultimately found a partner that has supported us greatly with the expertise to produce a high quality and premium product for us. With that said, having an FDA certification was a must, and ensuring that our gluten-free product was in fact just that. So we certified our product at a General Mills lab in the United States making our product the only gluten free certified pasta straws in the United States.
Who is your target demographic?
The beauty about our product is that it can suit any demo that has sipped out of a cup or normal drinking straw. Our tall and smoothie size straws will cater towards millennials and gen x, while our short straw is perfect for any child's sippy cup or beverage. (It is hard pasta that will crack when bitten, so we do recommend adult supervision when children are using our straws). The short straws are 5.5” in length making them suitable for cocktails as well. People who are 21+ and bartenders/mixologists looking to further elevate their cocktail game with our vibrant straws are also huge fans of the product.
Eco-conscious moms/parents looking for an alternative to plastic and paper straws for their kids while on the go, the at-home mixologist looking to level up their bar cart and create conversation around a premium plant-based straw, health and fitness enthusiasts looking to use a sustainable drinking device to help them achieve their health goals, bartenders, and anyone in the hospitality industry.
What is the funniest/most strange customer request you’ve had?
Can you flavor your straws? We don’t typically get this request because most people do not want to alter the taste of their drink. We actually went through a couple rounds of R&D to ensure our product was tasteless, which it is. Maybe in the future we’ll cook up a collaboration with a whiskey brand and introduce peat or honey flavored pasta straws to enhance the aromatics of the cocktail.
How did you fund the idea initially?
Our checking accounts and business credit cards that offer 0% interest for the first 12-18 months. You’ll always need some physical cash because not every vendor or partner you work with will accept credit cards. We can’t forget about sweat equity and hustle. We have poured our hearts and souls into bringing Pasta Life to life while working full time gigs.
Where did you meet your co-founder/founding team?
Dave and I met through our significant others. My wife Marissa and Dave’s fiance Halie grew up together. We were introduced 4 years ago and have become inseparable best friends and now business partners.
Any tips for finding first employees?
Look for someone that compliments your skill set and clearly identify how you each will work together in order to eliminate any confusion or redundancies. Our teamwork and entrepreneurial spirit is key to our success. We both share the same vision for Pasta Life and are determined to bring that dream to reality.
Did you run any companies prior?
No, neither of us owned businesses prior to starting Pasta Life.
What motivated you to start your own business?
Dave: I spent years working at late stage startups, moving at a fast pace, multi-tasking and seeing my hard work come to life, but I was never fully fulfilled since it wasn’t my own. I have always had a passion for entrepreneurship, not being able to spend a day without looking at something and thinking “how can I improve that or is there a way I can monetize this idea.”
Anthony: I’ve spent years building teams and brands from the ground up and was frankly tired of seeing others gain from my hard work and creativity. Now that I have my own family I realized that it’s up to me to create and build the life my wife and I want to live -- no one in corporate America is going to hand that to you. I was motivated to control my own destiny and knew Dave was the perfect partner to start something great with. There’s nothing more rewarding than starting your own business and seeing it grow.
What were your family and friends first thoughts on your company?
Everyone was fully supportive of our vision. Taking a product like a paper or plastic straw that is widely despised and replacing it with pasta was a no brainer! They couldn’t wait for it to come to life.
What motivates you when things go wrong? What is the end goal?
Learning from our mistakes (hopefully only small ones!) and making things even better than the first time. We’ve never run a business before so it’s been an experience having to focus on the smallest details that make a large difference. We like to celebrate the small wins because we know they will lead to even bigger ones.
Do you have any advice for someone just starting out?
Create your MVP and share with an audience. Ask yourself the question of “Am I providing a solution to a consumer need with my product or service?”
If you’re not passionate and committed about what you’re building then your idea may be short lived, so stay focused.
You’re going to fail and make mistakes along the way, that's a given when you start your own business, but it’s how you carry yourself and rise up after you make those mistakes which really separates the just “great ideas” from running a successful business.
What is stopping you being 3x the size you are now?
The pandemic has significantly impacted the hospitality industry which is where our product is used most. Prior to Covid-19 we were on pace to have a strong first year in business, however all of that changed with the shutdown of bars, restaurants, and hotels. We made a decision to pivot our B2B model to D2C by partnering with a range of retail outlets such as Amazon, Walmart.com, as well as grocery and liquor store chains to sell our product.
How do you protect yourself from competition?
We move faster than them. We continue to invest our time innovating on our product assortment and plan to launch new eco-friendly pasta products in the near future. There’s a reason why we didn’t include “Pasta Straws” in our name...we’re bigger than just straws alone. More to come on that.
Do you have any trademarks/IP/patents?
- Pasta Life is a registered trademark
- Our recipe and gluten-free composition is our IP
What are the top 3-5 apps your business could not run without? Why are they essential?
Shopify - it is the brain and beating heart of our operation. Not only does it provide the eComm platform for us to sell but it is an amazing tool for tracking inventory and managing our distribution network.
Instagram - people say you eat with your eyes but you drink with them too. We were able to build the Pasta Life brand from the ground up and have created an experience around our straws thanks to Instagram. Name another straw brand...we’ll wait. We want people to think of Pasta Life every time they sip from their favorite beverage and know our brand by name when they use or see our products.
IMessage and FaceTime - communication is key to running a successful business. Dave and I are constantly sharing docs, creative, etc. and use FT to collaborate and plan our next move.
What are your favourite books?
- The 33 Strategies of War
- The Checklist Manifesto
- The Lean Startup
What are your favourite podcasts?
- Snacks on Spotify
- How I Built This
What are the next products you’re working on?
We’ve iterated on our recipe and strengthened the composition of our straws -- the new product we are launching lasts 1hr+ (previously 40 min) (launching September)
Smoothie straws with 8mm wide diameter (launching September)
We previously had 7 colors of straws made naturally from plants and veggies but we are adding an 8th color, blue, made from butterfly pea flowers to our straw portfolio. This will come in regular 7.5” and smoothie 8” with extra wide diameter (launching September)
Individually wrapped Pasta Life straws in response to Covid-19; these can be custom branded with a logo / text as well (launching September)
Slurp Mask - a facemask with a sealable flap that covers a hole for a pasta straw so you do not have to remove your masks when you’re in an outdoor dining situation. We are donating a portion of these proceeds to Ocean Conservation to fight PPE ocean pollution as a result of the pandemic (recently launched)
Are there any releases you can tell us about?
Yes all of the above
Where do you see the company in 5 years?
As the leader in eco-friendly products continuing to innovate it’s product assortment
What is current revenue? Would you ever sell?
Not sharing at this time. If the valuation is right, then we’ll consider it. But Pasta Life is our baby and we want to see it grow.