Tina Eliason knew better than to open her own food business — any business for that matter. The former banker spent nearly a decade underwriting and risk analyzing small business loans. “After that, I swore I’d never make the mistake of going into business for myself.” Three years later, she’s making (and selling) more than 12,000 raviolis a month as the mama behind Mama Tina’s Ravioli. Very much in business for herself. And growing fast.
It started accidentally, as most good businesses do. Laid-off banker turned barkeep, the longtime Forestville resident whipped up a batch of her tried-and-true Spallina-family ravioli one night at the Rio Nido Roadhouse. “I made 20 servings and they sold out in an hour and a half,” she said. Friends and customers kept asking for more of her family’s ravioli, and despite her initial resistance to calling her pasta-making a business, Mama Tina’s was born.
Several afternoons a week Tina heads over to the commercial-grade cafeteria kitchen of a nearby school where she whips up a a few hundred ravioli, packages and freezes them for her supermarket and farm market clients. But at $8 dozen what’s keeping fans coming back is Tina’s constant experimentation with ingredients: Philly cheese steak (it’s everything but the bread), Thanksgiving (turkey, stuffing), pumpkin pie dessert ravioli as well as more traditional ravioli with local mushrooms; Dungeness crab, lobster, butternut squash and traditional Sicilian sausage and spinach. She’s currently working on another with chocolate and raspberry.
Everything’s made by hand, using local ingredients, and Tina’s a stickler for details. Having been the family pasta-maker since she was a kid, she’s had plenty of training. “I grew up in a big Italian family and the person who started dinner didn’t have to clean up,” she said. Each ravioli is rolled, filled and cut by hand, a process that takes her several hours. “Raviolis are a very labor-intensive,” she said. Eliason shops the local farmer’s markets for produce and meats, mixing up each batch herself and making hearty sauces to compliment the ravioli.
You can find Mama Tina’s Ravioli at Speers Market in Forestville, where Tina does tastings each Friday afternoon; the Windsor Farmer’s Market on Sundays, on the menu at Bear Republic in Healdsburg and she’ll soon be on the menu at Lisa Hemenway’s Fresh in the cafe. You can find her at : mamatinas.us or on her Facebook page
Finishing off a batch of ravioli on a rainy afternoon, she says, “I’ve never had more fun in my life.”