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GETTING SALTY

His restaurant was destroyed by a fire. But now, life’s a beach.

At the new Pasta Beach Rowes Wharf, Eldredge Ropolo hopes people will put their phones down and savor the moment.

J. Eldredge Ropolo helps his family run Pasta Beach, newly reopened at Rowes Wharf.Handout

Eldredge Ropolo, 27, grew up in Torino, Italy, spending summers in the United States. Fittingly, his family runs the trio of Pasta Beach restaurants in Boston, Newport, R.I., and Providence — where he hopes people can relax and pretend to be on vacation, if only for a little while. Another branch in Charleston, S.C., is on the horizon. (“I feel like it’s a bigger Newport,” he says.)

Ropolo is Pasta Beach’s director of operations, but he started as a 12-year-old busboy and dishwasher. His biggest job? Reopening Boston’s Rowes Wharf restaurant, which closed for renovations in 2019 after a major fire. It returned in June, with a Roman chef and recipes that might be unfamiliar to everyday diners.

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Why the name Pasta Beach?

We laugh as a family. When my mom first arrived in Italy — she’s from Rhode Island — she fell in love with pasta. She orders spaghetti pomodoro every time she goes back to Italy. What everybody thinks about Italian food, it’s what comes to mind: always pasta. Between the love of Italian food that we all have, pasta is always involved. The “beach” part is how we want people to feel at the restaurant. When dining with us, imagine sitting on the rocks, drinking an Aperol Spritz, and looking at the sunset. You forget about all your problems, you forget about your issues, you’re enjoying the moment. Life’s a beach. When you dine out, you have to be in the moment. I don’t know how else to describe it. Life can be stressful, but you have to realize that, with friends and family, be in the moment. Put your phone away. Look at the people in front of you.

Your dad is an oral surgeon in Italy. How does he also run a restaurant here?

My dad is always onto the next project. He never stands still. [He] always wanted to open a restaurant. Ever since he met my mom, he had this idea. My parents don’t cook; we’d have friends over, and my dad would call my grandma in Italy and ask for recipes. Everyone loved the food he made, and most of the time, it was his first time making it. He wanted to get Italian chefs from Italy, bring them here on special visas, and cook food we grew up eating in Italy. We loved entertaining.

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What did you grow up eating?

Spaghetti vongole. It’s one of the simplest dishes to make, but when it’s made correctly, it’s amazing.

In Boston, we do a classic vongole but with a bottarga on top; it adds a umami fish flavor. It’s a fish roe that people use in Italy. On a fish pasta, you don’t put parmesan cheese; the bottarga gives it that saltiness. It’s the parmesan of fish dishes.

What are the biggest differences, food-wise, between Italy and here?

The raw product. You get all these products in Italy that are the highest of quality, and that is the biggest difference. At a young age, they didn’t have kids’ menus. You experience the food. You order off the regular menu. I was ordering langoustines off the menu at 6 years old. My parents laugh: My parents and their friends were at one table; myself and my brother were at another table. I was six or seven. My parents came over, and we’d ordered langoustines and raw fish. They laugh at that. There was no penne with butter!

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How did Pasta Beach start?

The first restaurant was the Newport location in 2002; I was looking from afar. It was tough at the beginning. The Newport location was very seasonal. It wasn’t open 12 months a year. My mom was flying back to the US every month or so; a lot of back and forth. They were always on a flight. At one point, I moved here with my mom and brother for two years, then moved back. We were mostly here. My dad would fly back and forth every 20 days, stay for five days, and then fly home. It was a big commitment. Everyone laughs: Why did you have to do that?

In October one year, my dad was driving back from Maine with friends, and all of a sudden he was laughing. You know when the highway was above ground in Boston? He’d look at Rowes Wharf. He thought the buildings were so beautiful. One day, he was driving back, and he saw a building was up for lease. He called my mom in Italy and said, “Hey, I just found a new restaurant.” My mom said, “No way. You’re crazy. We are still living in Italy.” I was 10 years old. Of course, my dad convinced her, and then we opened Boston in 2010.

What were your teen years like?

I lived in Torino until my sophomore year of high school. I ended up coming back to the US and finished high school and then went to college in the US. I went to Wheeler in Providence and Cornell for their hospitality program.

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Is a hospitality program really worth it?

One thing I love about Cornell is, it’s a hospitality school, but they teach you everything. You take law classes, you take economics classes, you take real estate classes, you take hospitality classes. There’s a restaurant on campus; you work in the kitchen, you work in the dining room, you run the whole restaurant for one night. You get this experience of hospitality — it isn’t only about the people. There’s a big business behind it, and you have to learn all aspects of the business, I believe, to be successful in running one. You have to combine all these different aspects, a lot of moving parts.

Why did Pasta Beach close in 2019?

We had a big fire in 2019, in September. It was interesting. My dad and older brother were away; my mom and myself were here. I was in Newport, and I got a call from a manager: “I believe we have a slight fire; I can see smoke coming out of the hood system.” We had an umbrella on the patio; he could see the umbrella with ashes on it. He said it wasn’t a big issue. The fire department was on its way.

Then he called me back: “Eldredge — they haven’t turned off the fire.” This was at 3 p.m. Luckily, a lot of customers weren’t in the restaurant; they had closed down all of Atlantic Avenue. We were still sitting in the office, and then my mom said, “Let’s go home and turn on the TV.” We saw the coverage happening. We came up early in the morning. We walked in: Water was all over the place. We knew it was going to have to be a whole new project.

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Why keep going, especially in light of COVID?

I love the Boston location. I started bussing in Newport, but my first management position was in Boston. I liked the building, I loved the regulars. I had a personal connection. I looked at my mom and said, “We’re redoing it.” She said it was up to my brother and me.

What’s different now?

We wanted to give it an elegant but casual feel. I describe it as a restaurant where you walk in and you can be in a suit and black tie, or you can be very casual. You sit down, service is amazing, food is an elevated everyday cuisine, and you can see some research has been done.

In the past 20 years, the food in Boston but overall in the US has completely changed. The customer has a better understanding of food, and there’s a lot more international food in Boston. Before, it was everyday casual cuisine, which worked. I still love it. It’s what we do in Newport. In Boston, we wanted to do something different. Like the carbonara: Our executive chef, he’s from Rome. Andrea Congiusta. He just came over here for the project a few months ago. We do the real carbonara in the sense that it’s guanciale, pecorino, and egg. A lot of people love it; some think it’s too salty. The pecorino itself is very salty. We don’t put any parmesan in it, which would help to alleviate that saltiness. And guanciale is saltier than pancetta and bacon, which a lot of restaurants use. We’re trying to go back to the roots of Italy.

Describe the Boston dining community in a few words.

Overall, I think as a city it has become more knowledgeable about food, and people are looking for more of an experience. People want to see something different, something new and exciting.

What’s your best-seller?

We do sell a lot of pasta. We are Pasta Beach! One of the biggest sellers might be the ragù Romano. It’s our Bolognese, not the classic ragout with ground beef and all of that. It’s made with oxtail. That’s where we want to differentiate ourselves: classic cuisine, and make it a little different.

Where do you eat when you’re not working?

In the Boston area, I used to love Gourmet Dumpling House and Gourmet China House. I have always loved dumplings. I always get the soup dumplings.

Any food you just can’t stand?

No. I’ve always loved trying new food. I always laugh: When I go to restaurants, I over-order. I try everything.

As someone who works in a family restaurant, have you seen “The Bear”?

It’s the next show on my list. Family businesses are interesting; there’s a lot of dynamics going into it. Like any business, you have to separate out family and business. It’s important to know how to separate business and family. You see each other all the time. I talk about work all hours of the day with my dad. I’m drinking my coffee and talking about work. You have to disassociate. I think, at some point, you have to all agree: We’re not going to talk about work today. Let’s not bring up work at all. You have to be conscious about just moving on.

Favorite hangout in Newport?

The Clarke Cooke House. In the summer, they have sushi. I sit at the bar and order some sushi.

Go-to cocktail?

Right now, a dirty martini.

Gin or vodka?

Vodka. Otherwise, at one point, I drank a lot of vespers. That might be one of my favorite cocktails.

Favorite TV show?

“Schitt’s Creek.”


Kara Baskin can be reached at kara.baskin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.