Ugly Noodle Owner Says Being Gluten-Free Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Enjoy Good Pasta

When Lauren McLaughlin discovered she was allergic to gluten and about 30 other foods, she understood why gluten-free foods had a bad reputation.

“A lot of it is not very good, and some of it is legitimately terrible,” the Elgin wife said with a laugh.

It was especially difficult for a pasta lover whose mother was Italian and who remembers making pasta by hand with her grandmother. “I didn’t realize my attraction to pasta was so strong until I discovered I couldn’t eat much of it,” she said.

Ugly Noodle in Geneva offers gluten-free vegan pasta in a variety of shapes. Pasta can be purchased fresh or dried.
Rick West/

The appeal was so strong that she launched her own brand of gluten-free, allergen-free pasta called Ugly Noodle. After the success of farmers’ markets in Elgin, Geneva, Wheaton and Wilmette last summer, McLaughlin opened a retail location in Geneva at 2600 Keslinger Road, Suite 15, in December.

“When I made mine, I realized it was better than anything I could buy,” she said.

Lauren McLaughlin makes a batch of malfalde pasta at Ugly Noodle in Geneva.
Rick West/

McLaughlin’s brown rice and sorghum pasta is made without eggs. It is therefore vegan and gluten-free.

The retail store sells a rotating selection of fresh gluten-free pasta, in addition to dried pasta and a selection of mostly gluten-free and allergen-free foods in what it describes as a “pasta deli.”

Ugly Noodle in Geneva offers a number of options for those with food intolerances in addition to their fresh pasta.
Rick West/

McLaughlin also sells online and has shipped pasta to all 50 states.

“December was a lot better than I expected, with people coming in to order online,” she said. “I would love for this to become the original flagship retail store and have others.”

The dream job

The 2008 Geneva High School alumnus went to DePaul University. After graduating, she moved to Australia to work as an au pair. That’s where the idea for Ugly Noodle came from, but in the form of a pasta food truck.

While watching four kids all day, McLaughlin did the old exercise of figuring out what you would do for free to help you choose a career. The solution for her was to make pasta and cook for people.

Lauren McLaughlin prepares a batch of pasta in the kitchen at Ugly Noodle in Geneva.
Rick West/

Over the next few years, McLaughlin worked a number of disparate jobs, from water park sales to tool sales.

“I wasn’t passionate about anything I did,” she said. “So I said to myself: why not do what I’ve been thinking about since 2013? So I did it.

Although she hopes to hire help soon, McLaughlin has done everything herself so far, from ordering, preparing and packaging the pasta to cleaning, working the counter and shipping of its product.

“I was working like crazy for a dream that wasn’t mine,” she said. “When you do something that you would do for free anyway, it doesn’t feel like work. I know it’s super cliche, but it’s true.

McLaughlin said that while her path to pasta making wasn’t a straight line, the stops along the way better prepared her for life as an entrepreneur. They also instilled in him the mission of giving back to the community.

Create a non-profit organization

Returning from Australia in the midst of a recession at home, McLaughlin took an unpaid internship in Texas.

She could barely do enough side hustles to get by and found herself on food stamps in the middle of a food desert, with no access to healthy options.

“Having a food shortage for the first time in my life was really eye-opening,” McLaughlin said. “And these things have gotten worse for people during the pandemic. »

In 2020, she created a 501c3 to help people living in food deserts. The Ugly Noodle community initiative donates a portion of the sales of each bag of pasta and customer donations.

The charity has partnered with the Chicago Park District Foundation and The Love Fridges in Chicago. It will grow vegetables in garden plots and distribute them for free to residents of Chicago neighborhoods without grocery stores.

“I’m not trying to say I’m going to save the world with pasta,” she said. “But I believe that food is a right and not something you deserve or don’t deserve based on the money you have.”

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