Pasta isn’t necessarily associated with New Orleans or the city’s stereotypical French Creole cuisine, but the Big Easy was once home to a large number of Sicilian immigrants, who brought their native love for pasta and noodles to the Crescent City. These immigrants brought with them a new style of cuisine to the area in the early 1800s, using ingredients like macaroni, lemons, and oysters, among others and fueled an evolution in food that continues today.
While macaroni and pasta was made in home kitchens for family meals by many Italian immigrants in New Orleans, local residents had gotten a taste for pasta dishes from ‘spaghetti houses’ or small local restaurants that catered to the immigrant population.
The first pasta kitchens in New Orleans were built in the French Quarter by Sicilians, including Giacomo Cusimano, who diversified his citrus importing business by opening a macaroni factory at 625 St. Philip Street, just steps from Bourbon Street. As the business grew, new space was needed to support the growing demand, and in 1902, Cusimano partnered with his valued employee Frenchman Leon Tujague, to build a new pasta kitchen deep in the heart of the French Quarter at the corner of Chartres Street and Barracks Street. This new kitchen was capable of producing 10,000 pounds of pasta a day and still stands today as a small hotel.
Having learned the business directly from an Italian, Tujague ventured out on his own in 1914 with the help of two other non-Italian businessmen, and formed the Southern Macaroni Company. Southern Macaroni employed many local residents, and offered home cooks pasta made in the traditions and methods of Italy, but with a decidedly local heritage. The company’s Luxury® Pasta brand survives today and remains the best-selling pasta brand in Louisiana.