Pasta Plus Restaurant in Laurel has been inducted into the Restaurant Association of Maryland's Hospitality Hall of Honor. The popular Gorman Avenue business, along with five other establishments in the state, was recognized at the Columbia-based trade association's 59th annual Awards Gala Monday night at Martin's West near Woodlawn in Baltimore County.
Pasta Plus co-owners, brothers Massimo "Max" and Sabatino Mazziotti, were voted into the Hall of Honor by other restaurant owners and won a "very elite award," said Laura Kimmel, a spokeswoman for the Columbia-based hospitality trade organization.
While other restaurants were honored at the gala with awards voted on by the dining public, the Hall of Honor awards, Kimmel said, are the result of a unanimous vote of a committee of restaurant and hospitality professionals who hold membership in the group.
"They are their peers. That's why it's such a high honor," Kimmel said.
The award is one of many Pasta Plus has amassed over the years. In 2002, it was profiled on the Food Network's "Best Of" segment. In 2010 and 2011, Pasta Plus was named the Washington area's best Italian restaurant by listeners of all-news WTOP radio, outpacing other larger, more familiar operations inside the Beltway. Two years ago, the Mazziottis received a civic award from Laurel Mayor Craig Moe and the City Council.
Pasta Plus "goes above and beyond," Kimmel said. "They are so passionate about what they do. Customers come back for great Italian food, and also because it feels so much like home. They embody what the restaurant industry is all about."
Three decades in Laurel
In February, Pasta Plus marked its 30th year in business. The Mazziottis, natives of the Abruzzi region of Italy, along the Adriactic Sea, opened the business in 1983 in a space once occupied by a sandwich shop called the Storm Inn.
The brothers and their mother, Nanella, came to the United States in 1968 to join their father, who had moved here a year earlier. After settling in Washington, the brothers landed jobs at the pricey Madison Hotel near the White House. Max waited tables while Sabatino cooked. The experience they gained at the Madison served as a springboard for other jobs in their adopted country.
Sabatino cooked at the Romeo and Juliet and the Sheraton Hotel, both in the District. He also sharpened his culinary skills at the Pisces Club, in Georgetown, and at Mama Regina's, in Silver Spring. Meanwhile, Max built his resume by waiting tables at spots like Giardino and Cantina D'Italia. From there, he advanced to the position of captain at the now-defunct Le Lion D'or, once recognized as a top restaurant in the nation's capital.
Driven by the success of their restaurant's 90-seat dining room, the brothers expanded their operation in 1995 with the opening of Pasta Plus Market and Gourmet Carryout.The space offers the look and feel of an indoor piazza, and a lighted display case features prepared food patrons can take out or eat in at one of 10 small tables.
In addition, Pasta Plus also typically sells out its seasonal wine dinners, where diners sample an array of foods and wines from various regions of Italy. Since1996, the Mazziottis have sponsored annual tours of Italy, including to their home region and to the islands of Sicily and Sardinia.
The latest honor by the Restaurant Association of Maryland, Max acknowledged, was unexpected.
"It makes you feel good. It gives us a little push for the next 30 years," he said.
In a business where 80 percent of start-ups fail within the first two years, the brothers said they make "quality and high standards'' their top priority.
"So many things can go wrong," Max said. "How you cook it, how you serve it. It's the customers who make things happen. Without them, we wouldn't be here."