The foundation of Linda Croley’s business, Bare Naked Noodles, hasn’t changed. The location has.
If Hoover resident Linda Croley learned one thing from her Italian grandmother, it’s that the taste of pasta can make or break a meal. When she decided to switch careers and follow her long-time dream of owning an eatery, Linda wanted the name of her business to reflect her mastery of pasta. She enlisted the help of her friends, one of whom coined the name “Bare Naked Pasta” because Linda’s pasta “is so good it doesn’t need to get dressed.” The name evolved into Bare Naked Noodles, but the concept—and the explanation-turned-slogan—stuck.
“We make noodles with the flavor built into them,” Linda says. “I always say it’s light as a feather. It’s made with locally sourced ingredients where possible. It’s got a great bite.”
Linda opened her first café in an office building in Riverchase. Over the next two years, she opened two more cafés in Homewood office buildings. The only problem was the number of potential customers she was missing by not having a storefront more visible to the public.
“It just didn’t dawn on me that being in an office building gives you no outside exposure,” she says. “I always dreamed of having an outside storefront.”
After closing the first few locations one by one, Linda found a storefront off U.S. 280 that she sees as “the future of Bare Naked Noodles,” a model for future locations she might open. “We want them to be stand-alone. Really, this is a dream come true for me to have this. We’re calling this an Italian specialty market.” The new location opened in July.
Along with about 15 catering jobs a week, Linda and her staff offer a small menu of fresh meals and salads daily, plus a variety of pre-packaged, grab-and-go entrées that people can heat when they’re ready to eat them. The daily menu features sandwiches like the turkey avocado club, chicken salad on croissant, chicken caprese panini and Bare Naked Noodles Burger; salads like the Mediterranean Greek and the Chop House Cobb; and the Pasta of the Day. The grab-and-go meals consist of chicken piccata, chicken marsala, lasagna, ravioli, stuffed shells and meatloaf.
“If somebody wants to pick up dinner, we’re their last stop before they get to Eagle Point or Mt Laurel,” Linda says. “You can always find fresh raviolis being made, and meatballs, tortellini and lasagnas.”
Although the current storefront is not a full-service restaurant with a dining room, customers who want to eat fresh meals immediately may sit at one of two patio tables on the sidewalk beside the building. Linda also sells olive oil, balsamic and jars of her Bare Naked Noodles Tomato Basil Sauce, which she says has a kick, but is devoid of added sodium, sugar and other ingredients. “There’s nothing funky in here – no preservatives, no citric acid,” she says. “Our goal is to have another sauce out by Christmas. The inclusion of different products in our line has been a big decision. How well does it fit in with our pasta and sauce? It’s really helped us form a brand, and that’s what we want.”
Bare Naked Noodles can accommodate different diets, too, such as vegan, gluten-free, paleo, ketogenic and others.
Gift baskets can be assembled with any of the packaged goods at the store, including baked goods in the pastry case, an unexpected addition made possible by Linda’s friend, Lynn Woolf, who owns Over the Top Toffee Company. Treats like lemon bars, chocolate peanut butter bars and Italian wedding cookies fill the case on a daily basis. “We’ll always have sweets in the case people can pick up. Same with salads and dressings. We’ll kind of be a one-stop shop.”
Linda credits chef Brian Vizzina (whose family owned the former Vizzini Farms Winery) for helping her navigate the business and assemble a strong team. “The team has been with me through three expansions,” she says.
Working in the food industry is relatively new to Linda, but cooking isn’t. For many years, her father worked with Sky Chefs, a feeder arm for American Airlines. “I was really intrigued with food from the very beginning,” she says. “I just wanted to cook the way my grandmother cooked, but nobody encouraged me to go to cooking school. So, I had my heart set on journalism school with finance.”
She was successful in finance—and, at one point, worked on Wall Street—but cooking eventually came calling. She retired as a financial advisor for Wells Fargo in 2015. “The word retirement never came into play,” she admits. “I really just wanted to do something different. I’ve never worked this hard in my life.”
Her staff has been the backbone of a smoothly running business, and she has worked with multiple mentors in and out of the food industry to develop her brand. She also does her homework. “I’m always with a pasta book in my hand, or looking at articles online.”
Linda sees Bare Naked Noodles as a tribute to her mother and grandmother – the women who instilled in her that earliest love of pasta, which, as fate would have it, became the foundation of her cooking career. “We really have a good thing going,” she says.
Bare Naked Noodles is open Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. It is located at 5511 U.S. 280, Suite 109. Bare Naked Noodles products are also sold at The Market at Pepper Place, The Market at Lee Branch, various Christmas markets, the Moss Rock Festival, and local church and community events. For more information about the company and its private event availability, visit barenakednoodles.com or @pastasogood on Facebook.