Salt Lake City was once home to a pasta plant that rivaled many in the West
“I believe in America. America has made my fortune.”
Film fans know those words were spoken by the undertaker, Amerigo Bonasera, during the opening fade-in of The Godfather. But they just as easily could have been spoken by Antonio Ferro, an Italian immigrant in Utah who made his fortune in pasta near the end of the 19th century.
Mining and Dining
Ferro was born in Southern Italy in 1872 and came to the United States in 1894, finding work as a miner in Pennsylvania. Mining led him to the West, first to Colorado and eventually to the mines around Mercur, Utah.
In 1896, Ferro left the mines for Salt Lake City where he opened a small grocery store at 562 W. 200 South. The neighborhood was home to a growing community of Italians, Greeks, Mexicans and Japanese immigrants who’d arrived to work in the mines or on several railroad spurs and warehouses under construction in the area. Whether or not he saw an underserved market in the immigrant community or he missed the food of his homeland and felt the time was right for more Americans to enjoy pasta, Ferro decided to get into the pasta-making business.
Along with several partners and workers from the small Italian community, he leased space in a warehouse at 244 S. 500 West and—using eggs from local farmers and wheat from Utah, Idaho and Minnesota farms—he launched the Western Macaroni Manufacturing Co. in 1905.
The company began making about 22 varieties of pastas including orzo and egg noodles. Originally operating as Tiger Brand sun-dried macaroni, vermicelli, etc., he soon changed the name to Queen’s Taste, and the company began a period of steady growth.
Macaroni for the Masses
Not long after opening, Ferro married his bride from Italy, Giovannina Calfa. He then went on to buy out his partners, and by 1910, the company was producing about 4,000 pounds of pasta and 40 varieties a day. As the operation grew, the building expanded several times, supplying pasta to neighboring states and as far north as British Colombia.
Pasta gradually gained a wider market among consumers, and in 1916, the Deseret News reported, “In years past, it was the rare exception rather than the rule to find macaroni and spaghetti served in [sic] the table of the masses. It seemed then to be the exclusive dish of the epicure but today throughout Utah the excellent products which come in almost endless variety manufactured by the Western Macaroni Co. … are almost a matter of daily enjoyment.”
A year later, in 1917, the company saw its market shares jump when the United States entered World War I and shipments of pasta from Europe were cut off. Ferro was heralded as the “pasta king of the Mountain West.” Ferro was also a hero among the Italian immigrant community, employing 25 to 30 people full-time who oversaw the mixing, cutting and drying operations at the pasta plant, thought to be the largest plant of its kind west of Chicago.
By 1927, the Western Macaroni Manufacturing Co. was producing five tons of product daily, but competition from other producers was growing along with the pasta appetites of Americans. Ferro’s son, Aristo, helped manage the company with his father, but he also earned a law degree and began practicing law. The factory suffered several fires during its history and in the summer of 1940, a third major fire devastated the operation. The company filed for bankruptcy in 1942, and Ferro died two years later.
Today, what remains of the Pasta King’s castle has been reborn as the Artspace Macaroni Flats apartments (244 S. 500 West, SLC, 801-364-1019, ArtspaceUtah.org) that lease work and living space for local artists as well as the aptly named Macaroni Gallery.