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Alfredo’s Italian Foods: God forbid you should be hungry!

Deep in the Italian psyche and embodied by many Italians of my acquaintance (some of whom are closer to me than my front door) is a strong imperative to tend to empty stomachs.

The program seems to be that we must eat to keep up our strength, keep up our spirits, and generally keep all the wheels turning. God forbid we should be hungry for any length of time!

ai1.JPG Which is why the Alfredo Aiello Italian Foods retail shop in Norwell makes trays of Sicilian-style pizza daily.

“You can’t be hungry in an Italian place!” said owner Rosina Aiello, 78, whose business comprises a 20,000-square-foot pasta manufacturing plant in Quincy and three South Shore retail stores.

“People would be shopping and we didn’t have anything for them to eat,” said Lino Aiello, operation’s manager and Rosina’s son. “They’d be getting pasta to take home to cook, and they were hungry. So they’d grab a slice. It has become very popular. It’s not a money-maker [at $1.49 a slice], it’s just there.”

The fact that Alfredo’s produces 5,000 to 8,000 pounds of pasta and Italian food a day, for wholesale and retail sales in New England, is hard to believe after visiting the plant.

The environment is extremely familial, relaxed, and comfortable. Old-fashioned-looking machines mix, roll, and stamp out tortellini, say, four at time (click, click, click) onto a narrow conveyor belt. The company’s dozens of delicious fresh pasta cuts and prepared Italian dishes are made by only 20 or so employees.

ai4.JPG On a recent visit, Rosina was working the lasagna-making line with about eight others, many of whom spoke Italian, and all of whom were wearing white hair caps. I happened to visit midday, and at the stroke of noon, everyone stopped their work and retired for lunch.

Rosina emigrated from Italy at the age of 13, and met her husband, Alfredo, 10 years later in the North End, where her family lived. The young couple married, moved to
Worcester, and started their business there in 1966. Three years later, they moved to the current location at 122 Water St. (“I missed my family in the North End,” said Rosina.) Although the couple met in Boston, they were both born in the tiny Southern Italy village of Palermiti. Alfredo passed away last August, at 82.

ai3.JPG In the very beginning, Rosina made the pasta and Alfredo went out and sold it. “It would take me a whole day to make one tray of tortellini like that,” said Rosina, pointing to a drying rack of the pasta.

Later, the Aiellos opened a small storefront in the Quincy plant for retail sales. Then, in 1996, they closed the storefront and opened a stand-alone retail store a couple blocks away, on Franklin Street, while also expanding the plant. (Oddly, the retail shop is right around the corner from Alfredo’s Restaurant, but the two businesses have no connection.)

In 2003, the Aiellos opened their Norwell store, and last year added their newest retail outlet in Canton.

The Norwell store, a few hundred yards from Queen Anne’s corner, is a lively, colorful shop with customers streaming in and out. Along with hundreds of the company’s refrigerated fresh pasta, sauces, and frozen Italian dinners, it stocks all kinds of beautiful imported Italian products.

ai6.JPGAlfredo also has a deli case for fresh sandwiches now (which it didn’t have when it first began offering its pizza for hungry shoppers). And, behind the checkout counter are fresh breads from bakeries in Boston’s North End and Federal Hill in Providence. Those bakeries now deliver the scali, a soft Italian sliced white; the bastone, a hard crusted, long loaf with a dense center; and the spukies, or sub rolls, but they haven’t always.

“In the ‘70s and ‘80s, we’d go into the North End to pick up the bread,” said Lino, who has spent his life in the business. “The sub rolls were called spukies there. And in those bakeries, even today, there’s always a tray of pizza.”

Alfredo’s pastas can be found locally in a number of stores, including: The Fruit Center in Hingham and Milton; Trucchi’s in Abington; Foodie’s Market in Duxbury; Whole Foods in Hingham and Dedham; and Roxie’s of Quincy. For more information on Alfredo’s hundreds of fresh made pasta, sauces, and frozen Italian entrees, visit the company’s website or call 781 878-2500.