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Tuesday, March 26 , 2019, 2:26 am | Fair 48º


Presto Pasta Cooks Up Fifth Location, on De la Vina Street

After 20 years in business, owner Albert Baltieri continues a tradition of serving inexpensive, quick and quality Italian fare

Albert Baltieri was a waiter with an idea.

The 27-year-old was waiting tables for his aunt and uncle’s business, Chase Restaurant & Lounge in downtown Santa Barbara. His mother wanted him to be a physician, but Baltieri had other plans.

“My mother wanted me to be a doctor and I’m like, ‘Jesus Christ, I’m a waiter,’” Baltieri said with a laugh. “I guess this wasn’t going to be good enough.”

Chase was open for five hours a night, and it did 300 covers every time. Baltieri noticed how quickly his uncle could serve home-cooked Italian food.

“I said to myself, ‘This is fast-food pasta,’ so that’s how I got the idea,” he said.

When a friend’s dad overheard his idea for a fast-food Italian restaurant, he offered to put up the money. After a $60,000 check and $20,000 of his own, the entrepreneur opened Baltieri’s Italian Restaurant on Hollister Avenue in 1984.

“I had some cooking experience from home from my grandmother, right,” Baltieri said. “I never cooked in a restaurant, so I went from being a waiter to a restaurant owner — pretty good transition. The food guy would come in and ask what I wanted to order and I would say, ‘I don’t know, what does my uncle use?’ That’s how we got along, know what I mean? And we made it work.”

Baltieri learned a few recipes from his grandmother, who grew up in Cerenzia, Italy. She taught him simple dishes made from scratch, such as white fish sautéed with some lemon, butter and capers.

“It’s fresh and simple, nothin’ to it,” he said. “For me, I like Bolognese, which is bread crumbs fried in olive oil — that’s my favorite thing.”

But one of the most important things she taught him had nothing to do with food, Baltieri said.

“You know what it really comes down to?” he asked. “The food tastes better when you are eating with the right people.”

After selling Baltieri’s for $250,000, Baltieri and his partner took over the Copper Coffee Pot on State Street and turned it into Aldo’s Italian Restaurant. Several years later, he opened Presto Pasta at 827 E. Montecito St. Both restaurants still operate today.

“My mother raised us by herself, and there wasn’t much going around,” Baltieri said. “It was pretty lean.

“I wanted to start a place with value for families. Italian food is a high-level food. You are always paying a lot for it. There was a segment missing for inexpensive, quality Italian fare, and that’s what it’s all about — total complete value.”

The newest location, the former All About Pets store at 2830 De la Vina St., opened March 19.

Santa Barbara resident Ed Cybulski said his favorite meal is the rigatone primavera. He said it’s inexpensive, quick and quality food.

“The quality of spaghetti is good, and the vegetable primavera sauce just tastes really good,” Cybulski said. “The price is right at $6, and you can build menu items at the same price. You can choose your pasta with whatever meat and sauce.”

James Sly of Sly’s Restaurant in Carpinteria visited Baltieri on Thursday.

“The food is good; it’s solid,” Baltieri said. “You just saw James Sly in here, chef extraordinaire, right? He ate it right up: ‘Oh, that’s pretty good,’ he said.”

Presto Pasta marks its 20th anniversary this year. It has expanded to five locations. Mark Kirkart of Design Arc designed the newly opened De la Vina restaurant that features a long reclaimed walnut communal table from Oregon at the entrance.

The menu includes Italian soups, salads and pastas, including chicken picatta with fettuccine alfredo and homemade lasagna.

Baltieri wants to start serving Napoletana pizza, which is cooked in about 90 seconds at high temperatures. He said the former Greyhound station at 34 W. Carrillo St. would be an ideal location.

Running Italian restaurants may be Baltieri’s passion, but if his grandmother were still here, she wouldn’t approve.

“If you aren’t cutting the pig in the back and plowing the land, she ain’t happy,” he said.

Noozhawk business writer Alex Kacik can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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