You don't have to hang out with Jorge Stekelorum long to realize his favorite word in Spanish is vení. It can mean several things. But for Stekelorum, it has only one definition: "Follow me."
For more than 20 years, Stekelorum has been making nothing but pasta at his shop, Mr. Pasta, which occupies a narrow storefront in North Beach's Little Buenos Aires. In his workshop outfitted with old pasta machines, a small staff of Argentines, dressed in white, twirl gnocchi on ridged wooden planks entirely by hand.
One of these days, though, he plans to expand his business and sell his noodles not to supermarkets, but to gourmet stores. "When we opened in 1991, we sold pasta to some hotels and restaurants and eventually evolved into retail," he says. "Little has changed since then. We specialize in pasta -- and only pasta! One thing's for sure: We won't ever sell to huge grocery stores. Vení, vení."
On a recent Saturday morning, Stekelorum urges me to fall in behind him as he wanders past sacks of stone-ground whole-wheat and semolina flour on the floor. "You see that woman there? She's been coming here for decades. Señora, how long have you been a customer?" he asks an elderly lady who approaches the counter from across the room. She's all of four feet tall.
"Fourteen years -- ever since I came to this country" she replies. "And I haven't died yet! You know what that means?"
"We don't put poison in our pasta," Stekelorum responds with a slow grin.
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