Clario Farmstead Pasta owners move their business to Sturgeon Bay
Ten years ago, Algoma hobby farmers Claire Thompson and Mario Micheli were enduring a particularly rainy summer. Now they’re running a pasta business because of it, and that business – Clario Farmstead Pasta – opened its first brick-and-mortar shop in February at 19 N. 3rd Ave. in Sturgeon Bay.
“This has always been the goal, and we finally made it happen,” Thompson said.
Rainy-Day Pasta Making
The summer of 2013 was marked by constant rain, which made for poor growing conditions for many of the vegetables that Thompson and Micheli sold at farmers markets and through CSA (community-supported agriculture) shares. But their greens were thriving.
“The only thing that grew really well was vegetables like spinach and kale,” Thompson said. “We had all these excess greens, and people were sort of sick of buying them.”
So Thompson and Micheli added the extra veggies to the dough of their homemade pasta, which they started making with farm-fresh eggs when they realized how delicious that was. And with the addition of the fresh vegetables, the pasta looked beautiful, too.
Their original green pasta is now part of a rainbow of products at Clario: pale pink tomato-garlic-basil pasta, golden yellow roasted butternut squash pasta, and pure black squid-ink pasta, among other flavors.
Thompson and Micheli source many of their ingredients from their own gardens and local farmers markets, making sure to buy organic when they can’t buy local.
That’s a priority for the owners for two reasons.
“It’s a climate issue,” Thompson said. “I believe in trying to live as lightly on the land as we possibly can.”
And it just tastes better. Clario fans can tell the difference, according to Thompson.
The same year they started making pasta, Thompson and Micheli started selling it at the farmers markets they attended, and it gained popularity so fast that they started spending long hours making pasta. They’d crank out tiny batch after tiny batch with the help of a few stand-up mixers.
“We’d stay in the kitchen all day long,” Thompson said. “It got to be kind of ridiculous.”
So after doing a test run in a commercial kitchen in Algoma, they eventually bought a restaurant-sized pasta extruder: a machine that flattens and cuts pasta dough and allows them to make 15-pound batches, or six to eight batches in one day. Everything else, from mixing the dough to packaging the finished product, is done by hand.
From Side Hustle to Full-Time Career
The couple’s pasta venture was still a side hustle at that point because Thompson was working in the nonprofit industry and Micheli was a graphic designer. But their full-time jobs weren’t their real passions, according to Micheli.
“What we really love to do is gardening, selling at farmers markets, running our own operation,” he said. “So we just decided to formalize things and make Clario our main operation.”
Doing so had been their goal for years, but the pandemic caused them to reprioritize it and inspired them to sell their Algoma farm and move to Sturgeon Bay in 2020.
Door County had been a long-time vacation spot for the couple, and it’s somewhere Micheli said they felt at home. After almost 20 years of selling their products at farmers markets from Milwaukee to Baileys Harbor, they had also cultivated plenty of connections to other local business owners and farmers.
In addition to selling Clario Farmstead Pasta, the new store stocks everything to go with it, from the couple’s own sauce to locally made bread and organic wine. Thompson said they plan to add hand-rolled ravioli and meal kits to the mix this summer, though she and Micheli – along with their 14-year-old daughter, who helps out, too – they are the store’s only two employees.
On top of all their normal business operations, Thompson and Micheli also still sell their products at the farmers markets that helped them get their start. When they first started selling pasta at those markets, they had no idea that pasta making would end up as their full-time jobs, Micheli said.
“It just – for lack of a better word – organically developed into where we are now,” he said.
Clario Farmstead Pasta is hosting a grand-opening party with a pop-up market April 1, 10 am – 5 pm. The store’s spring hours are Wednesday-Friday, 11 am – 5 pm; Saturday, 10 am – 5 pm; and Sunday, 11 am – 3 pm.