If you haven’t heard about Irene yet, you must be hiding under a rock. Irene IS Italian Pasta Enterprise, a mumpreneur who has been in business since 2005.
I had the privilege of visiting Irene at her home in PramPram which is the site of her production as well. A modest woman, Irene Adoko, began Italian Pasta Enterprise in 2005 under the encouragement of her husband, Luciano, a native of Rome, Italy. They realised there was a gap in the market then, as nobody but an Italian restauranteur was making fresh pasta in Accra. After the restaurant shut down, and the head chef of the restaurant moved back to Italy, they seized the opportunity to launch the business and never looked back.
It’s been twelve years since they started their business but it hasn’t always been an easy road. They started by approaching hotels and major supermarkets to purchase and supply their products. Labadi Beach Hotel was one of their first customers, and they still supply them to this day! In 2007, Irene left Ghana for Italy for personal reasons and while she had learnt how to make pasta from her husband in Ghana, it was in the homeland of pasta, that she perfected the art of making pasta from her mother-in-law.
In 2010, Irene returned to Ghana and took up the business with full gusto. She credits her friends, Mary and Beza, who encouraged her to come back to Ghana and give the business another chance. Her friends and her faith in God gave her the strength and courage to try again. Beza suggested that she try another way of marketing and promoting her products at the German Swiss School bazaar, as a way of reaching her target customers.
In 2011, she met up with Yasmeen Helwani, founder of the famous monthly open air stock exchange markets at the Goethe Institute, and discussed the idea of coming together to help promote local artisans and their products. To date, they are still going strong, and the monthly market (held on the 1st Saturday of each month) is one of the most popular markets organised in Accra, and definitely one that people mark on their calendars!
I met Irene in 2012, when a friend dragged me to the markets, in an effort to try and make me forget my homesickness. I was so glad she did, because I never would’ve met Irene then. If you’ve met Irene, you’d probably agree with me that she has a certain charm. A soft-spoken woman, who is silently determined and confident about her products. Irene is incredibly hardworking. She has just three employees helping her out with Stephen being most senior and who has worked with her from the very start.
Irene’s products are not only limited to pasta, but also cheese, pesto, and ready-made meals like cannelloni and lasagne bolognese. She uses only fresh produce (some from her own garden) to make each product on sale, and she even supplies fresh eggs, milk and yoghurt to compliment her products. Aside from that, she has also sourced fresh beef and seafood and supplies them on demand to customers.
Prior to 2011, all their products were produced by hand. However, they’ve since since imported pasta making machines from Italy to help meet demand. One machine helps knead the dough and presses out sheets of pasta, while another machine creates the ravioli varieties she offers. The tortellini and fagottini products however, are still produced by hand.
Irene follows strict hygiene practices and I observed her and her staff continually cleaning the bench tops and their hands with alcohol before touching any of the pasta. Irene gets interrupted often, from answering a call to take an order or enquiry, to patiently attending to her staff asking questions or checking on how things should be done. She seamlessly multitasks and doesn’t break a sweat switching between different tasks. I watch her admiringly and am in awe of how in control Irene is.
I was treated to lunch with the freshly made fagottini, served with a simple sauce made with sautéed onions in olive oil (imported from Italy by Irene), oyster mushrooms, porcini mushrooms and simmered in fresh homemade passata (I really don’t know how she finds the time!) sauce. It was simple, but wholesome. Absolutely delicious! I could’ve definitely had seconds.. and thirds too!
Irene’s pasta does not contain chemicals or preservatives. The pasta dough is made of flour, eggs, salt and a little bit of turmeric powder to help give an extra golden colour, especially if the eggs used don’t give the dough a strong yellow colour. All her pasta (fresh and frozen) have an expiry date of three months.
Irene’s best selling products are her cheese and spinach ravioli. Her latest product, the mushroom, ricotta and spinach ravioli is delicious and my personal favourite! I like pairing it with Irene’s basil pesto (another personal favourite and it makes for a simple, easy meal which is not only healthy, but full of flavour.
You will find Irene and her team at The Open Air Stock Exchange held at the Goethe Institute in East Cantonments on the first Saturday of each month, as well as the Labone Coffee Shop markets, every Saturday.
You can also contact Irene through Facebook or give her a call on 024 310 9681. Irene delivers to Accra once a week (in addition to her market appearances) and orders under 100 Cedis attract a fee of 20 Cedis. Orders over 100 Cedis total are entitled to free delivery.