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Published September 09, 2013, 10:25 AM

Pasta passion

For Francine Anderson and some of her friends, the reopening of a pasta factory in Cando, N.D., is a financial lifesaver.

By: Kevin Bonham, Forum News Service

CANDO, N.D. — For Francine Anderson and some of her friends, the reopening of a pasta factory in Cando, N.D., is a financial lifesaver.

“It’s a blessing,” she says. “My unemployment ran out in May.”

That’s about the same time that Jim Gibbens hired her to be part of his new team at Cando Pasta LLC, which will begin some limited production later this month in the same building that housed Noodles by Leonardo for 30 years before closing last fall.

Anderson had worked at Noodles for eight years.

The reopening also is a windfall for Cando a Towner County city of 1,125 located 40 miles south of the Canadian border.

“The pasta plant has been here for so long that it was kind of taken for granted,” says JoAnn Rodenbiker, executive director of Towner County Economic Development. “So, it was kind of a wake-up call when it was announced last year that it was going to close.”

The company currently employs about 20. Another 10 are likely to be hired when production begins. That number will grow to 60 or 70 in the next several months.

Partnership

Cando Pasta is owned by four partners: Cousins Jim and Bruce Gibbens, Cando; Bruce Satrom, Colgate, N.D.; and Steve Johnson, Page, N.D.

The partners also are building another pasta plant, Abbiamo Pasta Co., in Casselton, N.D. Abbiamo is Italian for “we have pasta.”

Noodles by Leonardo operated two North Dakota pasta plants, one in Cando, the other in Devils Lake, before closing both of them last year.

The Devils Lake facility since has been purchased by Ultra Green, a Twin Cities-based company that makes biodegradable, compostable food-service products from wheat straw. The company will reopen later this year.

Cando Pasta will produce macaroni products: elbow macaroni and shells from its short goods line; spaghetti and lasagna from the long goods line.

It also will operate its own mill, located in the same building, converting durum and spring wheat into semolina or farina, to be used in its products, which will be marketed to a variety of pasta brands.

Until it closed last year, the Cando plant was one of three operating semolina mills in the state. The others are the North Dakota State Mill and Elevator in Grand Forks and Minot Milling in Minot.

When Cando Pasta reaches full production, Gibbens says the plant should produce 15 million to 20 million pounds of pasta annually and contribute $2 million to $2.5 million in payroll to the local economy.

Experience and more

When Cando Pasta took over, one of the partners’ first priorities was to hire former plant workers. Many of them already were working for other Gibbens family businesses, such as the hog farm, according to Jim Gibbens, president of the Towner County economic group.

“We wanted people with experience,” he says. “People who might want to be around for two or three years before retiring and are willing to train someone to replace them.”

Among them is Steve Torry, a 71-year-old Cando resident who started with Noodles by Leonardo when it opened in 1982 and stayed until it shut down last year.

“I’m working part-time now,” he says. “I’ll stick around until Jim gets someone to replace me. But I like this job. I’m happy.”

The key to Cando Pasta’s success, Gibbens says, is three-fold.

“We’re old enough and experienced enough to have the capital to buy the pasta plant. We have an experienced workforce. They’re mostly in the 50s to 70s, but they’re going to teach the next generation of workers. And the pasta market is good.”

Rodenbiker thinks that will mean good things for Cando, Towner County and the broader region.

“There are some good things happening up and down Main Street here,” she says. “The other nice thing is small-business financing. The local banks have been good. Of course, the ag economy has been strong, and that really helps. I think the whole county is starting to rebound, starting to feel good about the economy.”

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