This Coho Q&A features Nonno’s Pasta Shop, run by Haley and Heather Toffanelo, two sisters who share a passion for traditional Italian cooking and plant-based eating. Drawing upon time-honoured family recipes, they specialize in vegan pastas and flavourful sauces—perfect for delicious meals at home with family and friends.
In this interview, we chatted with the dynamic sister team about their Italian origins, their vegan-interpretation of traditional pasta, and the challenges and joys of being plant-based entrepreneurs.
Coho: How did Nonno’s Pasta Shop get started?
Haley: We’re sisters, and we’re originally from Ontario. Our extended family owned a pasta shop for almost thirty years. We grew up in a traditional Italian community with really amazing food but we both adopted vegan lifestyles, and we wanted to be able to take that amazing food and bring it to the plant-based community because we couldn’t find anything that tasted like our traditional flavours from home.
Coho: Where did you get your inspiration for your pasta recipes, and why did you decide to focus on plant-based ravioli?
Heather: We’ve always made sauce at home. It’s our go-to quick meal. We’re both moms, so the easiest thing to do is make a batch of pasta and sauce. It’s that classic thing where you can never get it to taste the same as your parents and grandparents, though, so we’ve had to adapt it to our own style.
Haley: There are pastas out there that are vegan by accident because traditional pasta just uses flour and water, and not egg. The egg is more of a preservative. But there is no stuffed pasta, like ravioli, in the vegan community. There are a few but they don’t taste traditional with authentic Italian flavours, so that’s why we thought of the ravioli first.
Heather: Our family’s pasta shop in Ontario, two of their bestsellers were meat and cheese ravioli, so we wanted to take that and veganize those recipes.
Coho: What misconceptions about plant-based eating do your products dispel?
Haley: One that always makes me laugh is the protein: “Where do you get your protein?” We have a solution because our pasta is very high protein.
Heather: We want to demonstrate that you don’t have to sacrifice on flavours when you’re going vegan. Especially when it comes to cheese, people are always like, “I can’t give up cheese,” so we wanted to make an alternative that tasted like the real thing but was made from plants instead.
Haley: The nutritional yeast gives a bit of that cheesy flavour, and a little bit is from the [vegan] cream cheese we add in too, which is for taste but also for texture.
Coho: What have you found to be challenging about starting and running your own food company? Do you have plans to expand your product line?
Heather: We soft launched last September. It’s been a bit of a process because we decided to execute on the idea in the middle of the pandemic. Haley came from a teaching background. I came from a business background. And then, I was on mat leave for a year, and when I came back, I didn’t have my job anymore because of COVID. We had been toying with the idea of starting this for a long time . . . and so we did it.
It’s a grind. Haley and I still do every single thing in the business, every facet of the business. So, every Instagram post, that’s us, for sure. So, that’s also why we’re slow to roll out more product. We definitely want to get more product out there, and we actually have one ready but because we are doing everything, from recipe development to social media, it takes a while. But it’s been a good year.
Coho: As a plant-based company, what has been rewarding about being part of the Coho commissary?
Heather: The awesome thing about Vancouver and Coho specifically is that there’s such a great community of plant-based businesses. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve called Asha [Wheeldon] from Kula to be like, “Can you help us with this?” And she’s come through. And there’s been so much support from other businesses.
Haley: It’s a really welcome and supportive community, 100%. We have been so fortunate to be here working with lots of vegan companies and just in the community in general.
Coho: Do you have any tips for aspiring local plant-based entrepreneurs?
Heather: Everything is baptism by fire for us. Reach out to people, and don’t be afraid to ask for help because people are happy to help, that’s the other thing. Entrepreneurs want to help other entrepreneurs, especially within the vegan community, because we want to see each other succeed.
Want to shop Nonno’s Pasta Shop?
Our online shop, Coho Market, carries Heather and Haley’s delicious plant-based ravioli, which pairs wonderfully with their tomato sauce, made from simple, wholesome ingredients. Enjoy a plant-based take on Italian favourites and feel good about supporting local female entrepreneurs!