“I think it’s fair to say Malaysians love Italian food. And if you can cook a nice pasta meal at home, why not?”
That was the general thought process behind the start of Shells Artisan Foods, a home-based brand in Penang serving fresh pasta and pasta sauces.
Exploring all the pasta-bilities
Leaving the tourism industry wasn’t an easy decision, but Shella and Chris wanted to be more present in their child’s life.
“Sometimes when you are working for so long, you get into a rut and lose track of the things that matter. Eventually, we got burnt out,” they confessed to Vulcan Post.
The final straw came when their daughter began slipping up in her studies which signalled to them that a change was needed to juggle home and work.
This led them to move back to Chris’ hometown in Penang and reconnect with family and friends.
The idea for Shells Artisan Foods came about during Christmas over a potluck gathering with friends. Shella had made Spinach Ricotta Ravioli which their friends thoroughly enjoyed.
“Our friends tried it and told us we should really consider selling it. That got us to really give it some serious thought and started us on this journey,” Chris shared.
So they rolled up their sleeves and began planning and experimenting with recipes for it.
Shella and Chris shared that making fresh pasta is a relatively easy process. It’s straightforward and requires few ingredients. But it still took the couple a while to be ready for the market.
They explained that it’s time- and labour-intensive to make large batches of it by hand. This had them searching for commercial machinery to speed up some parts of the process.
There were also smaller issues that needed to be looked at such as product storage, packaging, and transportation logistics. In total, about RM50,000 was dug up from their savings to start the venture.
Can you pasta sauce, please?
Shells Artisan Foods occasionally offers exclusive menu items, like beef rendang lasagna, and salmon wellington, but their core is still fresh pasta and sauces that customers can cook at home.
These are usually packed in a box for four servings and can be kept frozen for up to three months. It should be thawed or defrosted (in the microwave, preferably) before being tossed into a saucepan.
In general, fresh pasta is ready to eat faster and doesn’t overcook as easily as dried pasta.
The brand’s bestseller so far is the same dish that brought about the business’s idea. However, they also offer ribbon pasta in an array of colours and flavours. The price ranges from RM25 to RM35 for 400g.
To highlight pasta’s versatility, they currently provide five pasta sauces that can be mixed and matched:
- Pomodoro sauce (RM22 for 400g)
- Puttanesca sauce (RM25 for 400g)
- Mushroom Alfredo sauce (RM22 for 400g)
- Pesto genovese (RM25 for 160g)
- Browned butter sage (RM17 for 100g)
Vegetables and fruits like pumpkin and dragonfruit are sometimes used in the pasta too as ways to sneak in a healthier diet for their child. The brand uses Italian soft wheat flour (grano tenero) that’s synonymous with pasta making.
They choose to keep their sauces traditional and import 90% of the ingredients, as they believe there are no local substitutes.
The recipes come from Shella’s old travelling journal containing notes from pasta-making classes she attended in Italy, which they have tweaked to adapt to our local climate.
One way is by reducing the amount of salt to suit the Malaysian palate better.
It’s a saucy debate
Shella explained it’s undeniable that Malaysians prefer rice over pasta. But she also believes that fresh pasta has its own appeal compared to store-bought dry pasta.
“There is only one way to know the difference. You have to try both and compare for yourself. After all, the proof is in the pudding,” she quipped.
“Fresh pasta usually contains eggs so it’s not empty carbs. They are softer and not as dense as dry pasta.”
For now, only Penang-based customers can order directly from the brand. For those in KL and Selangor, purchases can be made through their partners who deliver within three days.
Keeping up with their made-to-order basis, they’re planning to deliver directly from Penang to other states in the future. This is to help with quality control and “guaranteed freshness”.
Penne for your thoughts?
In a way, you could say that it was a stroke of luck that helped to propel Shells Artisan Foods.
The brand officially opened for business right before the pandemic happened. The lockdowns meant that people were looking for more interesting options to spice up their meals at home.
With the vast Italian and fusion food offerings in Malaysia, it’s a justified observation. The couple’s prior research into the local fresh pasta market also assured that competition would be low, particularly in Penang.
During peak seasons, the couple would be cooped up in the kitchen working for 12 to 15 hours just to keep up with the orders.
Now that they have the funds and investors to boot, their bigger goal of opening a restaurant and pasta bar is slowly coming together.
- Learn more about Shells Artisan Foods here.
- Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.
Featured Image Credit: Shells Artisan Foods