When Steve Bird was expelled in the tenth grade from Portsmouth High School, his parents gave him two options: figure out how to get back into school or get a job.
It was just the motivation Steve needed to become the youngest licensed commercial fisherman in the state of Rhode Island, raking for quahogs along Ocean State shores. The experience paved the path for Steve’s love of food and cooking, which came in handy during his 21-year stint as a Merchant Marine cook. “I was the top of my field,” he says proudly. This experience took him around the world. After his service, he continued cooking, working in kitchens at local favorites like the Old Venice Restaurant in Warren, and Newport’s popular Brick Alley Pub. Here, he was introduced to the owner of the now-closed Nonni’s Kitchen and Pasta Shop in Tiverton.
“He [the owner of Nonni’s] walked in one day, dropped our order on the table and said, ‘No more pasta. I’m done,’” recalls Steve, who quickly asked where he was going to buy fresh pasta. Jokingly, the pasta maker suggested that Steve should buy his shop. Steve didn’t buy Nonni’s, but he did see a new opportunity to fill a fresh pasta void. The next thing he knew, he was purchasing the pasta-making equipment to launch his own company. Many of the machines were first owned by Aquidneck Island restaurant owners and came directly from Italy. (“The parts are impossible to come by,” Steve woes.) Starting his own small business was less intimidating than you might think. “I’ve been a chef most my life and this seemed like a natural thing to do. I saw there was a need for it.”
When Steve opened the doors to Litl Rhody Pasta K.O. in Tiverton, the business was strictly wholesale, selling to local eateries like The Boat House. But it took considerable trial and error before he perfected his from-scratch fettuccini, cavatelli, rigatoni, ravioli, and more. “You need to touch and feel it; it’s a process. At first, it’s not gonna come out perfect every time. There was a lot to learn,” he says. While the wholesale business was keeping him busy, word got around in the small town. “People kept asking, ‘Can I get a pound of this? Can I get a pound of that?’ Finally I said, ‘It’s time to do the retail side,’” says Steve.
Today, Steve keeps an average of six different flavors of fresh pasta on hand. Some you might expect, like garlic basil and sweet red pepper, but he’s also created more interesting flavors including butternut squash, squid ink, and sweet Italian inspired by sweet Italian sausage. Steve was able to use his chef experience to debut pre-assembled dishes for purchase (take and bake). Creations vary daily and can include lobster and cheese ravioli, burrata, and spinach tucked in garlic basil ravioli, tri-color manicotti stuffed with ricotta, mozzarella, and parmesan, and baked rigatoni with Italian sausage, ground beef, mozzarella, spinach, parmesan, and fresh basil with Newport Rustic Sauce – a locally made tomato sauce.
Connecting with his customers is one of the things Steve enjoys most since opening his business. “As a restaurant chef, you’re behind the door of the kitchen all the time. You don’t get to interact and it’s just a paycheck at some point,” he says. “Here, I have really gotten to know my customers. It’s really rewarding.”
Litl Rhody Pasta K.O.
Open Wednesday-Saturday, 10am to 5pm. Cash only.
14 A Stafford Road, Tiverton