Above the swinging door to Pasta Bella’s kitchen reads, ‘Andiamo a mangiare.’
The Italian phrase — translated as ‘Let’s go eat’ in English — is more of an invitation to an experience than it is a command. Owners Joe and Denise Anderson and Travis and Zina Runyan are intentional about it being that way.
“Having a place where people can walk in and we get to see friends and serve them a good meal [is special],” says Zina. “And I think that’s part of being within a small community. I may see you at Walmart and then see you again tonight at dinner or see you Downtown walking at the festival and then see you the next day at your establishment. It’s neat to be able to have such a tight-knit community that’s both welcoming and friendly and supportive of everybody.”
Joe, Denise, Travis, and Zina moved to Mississippi from Southern California nearly two years ago. Joe and Denise Anderson arrived first. Together, they quickly pursued a lifelong dream.
“When we got here, we saw that we couldn’t find anything like what we’re used to and thought we’d bring a taste of who we are to Laurel, Mississippi. My wife and I retired a couple of years ago and decided we couldn’t live in California any longer, so we migrated here.
“We got here a couple of years ago, bought a house next door to each other, and started our dream here.”
As it turns out, Joe and Denise’s dream similarly resembled a dream their daughter Zina held as a teenager.
“Growing up in Southern California, in Riverside County, our family was the type of family who, on Sundays after church, went to Grandma’s house [for Sunday dinner]. It was a big family gathering: the cousins, aunts, uncles, [etc.]. So we’d all get together at Grandma’s house and have Sunday dinner.
“From the time I was in my mid-teenage years, I talked and laughed about opening up like my own sandwich shop, like a grinder shop. It was always one of those fun pipe dreams — an if it could only happen type of deals.”
One might say Ben and Erin Napier’s HGTV show “Hometown” brought the Anderson’s and Runyan’s to Laurel, but it’s more divine than that.
“We’d always laugh about [moving to Laurel, Mississippi],” said Joe. “But when the [right] time came, God made it very clear to me that it was time for me to retire. So I said, well, what are we going to do? We can’t live here. We cannot afford to live here on our social security. So God very plainly said, you’re going to Mississippi. You’ve been teasing about it, so now it’s time to get up and move to Mississippi.”
At first, Travis and Zina didn’t plan to join Joe and Denise in the move.
“We had no intentions of moving to Mississippi,” said Travis. “I had a job at the time, and we were doing well financially. And then, to make a long story short, God had a different plan for us.”
Joe, Denise, Travis, and Zina currently attend Agape Church in Downtown Laurel.
“It’s a lot like our home church,” said Joe. “It’s nondenominational, and we love it there.”
Shortly after the move, Laurel’s appeal on “Hometown” proved to be the same on location.
“We wanted to be part of the downtown movement,” said Travis. “We loved that, and we wanted to be a part of it.
“We wanted to be a part of the community, part of Downtown, and part of the growth. So when we saw that downtown was continuing to grow, even after we moved here, we wanted to be a part of it.”
Family is of extreme importance to the Andersons and Runyans. Laurel, and the Downtown’s movement, resembled that, according to Travis.
“We believe there’s a lot of value here and within the local businesses. It’s like a little family. Everyone comes together when things are going on and helps each other out.”
Family is even incorporated into Pasta Bella’s menu.
“When you see our menu, it shows the family’s favorites. Those dinners are pretty much what we have for dinner every night. It’s great because we were able to take the recipes that we’ve learned from our family when they came across from Sicily and provide them to everybody else.”
Every dish on Pasta Bella’s menu is made from scratch.
“I think what makes us original and special is that we’re not just using our family recipes, but we’re making everything from scratch,” said Zina. “Nothing is coming out of a can or a jar or a bag or any of those things. We’re making everything from scratch.”
“We even make our own breadcrumbs,” added Joe. “The breadcrumbs you get on your breaded steak or parmesan are our bread crumbs, and they make the difference. Believe me, it makes the taste of everything completely different. Each serving is done specially by us.”
Pasta Bella will be open for lunch Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“One of the ways we want to give back to the community is being available on Sundays after church,” said Joe. “We thought that this would be a great addition for the church families who might want a nice and easy meal after church. So we’re hoping that’s going to be helpful. That’s what the Lord told us to do, so we’re going to do it.”
They’ll also be open for dinner on Wednesdays through Saturdays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.