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T-Rav Nation: How the St. Louis Favorite Gets Made



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Louisa’s green boxes of t-ravs are a familiar site in grocery stores. - ANDY PAULISSEN
  • Louisa’s green boxes of t-ravs are a familiar site in grocery stores.

The individual ravioli travel along the line and into piping-hot blanchers. Workers stand by the blanchers, making sure nothing goes wrong. Then, the cooked ravioli moves through the batter and breading, a particularly Midwestern touch.

From there, the ravioli travels through a centerpiece of Louisa's factory floor: a spiral freezer. Added to the factory in 2004, the freezer can harden t-ravs in about 20 minutes, Krdzalic says.

The freezer is contained in a person-less room that looks like an archetype of the North Pole. Snow-like moisture latches onto every surface in the room, illuminated by a blue-white haze. Large fans, which aid the cooling system, make things loud.

"[In] wintertime, you will have more icicles and ice," Krdzalic says, opening a door to reveal the arctic scene. "In summer ... it will feel like Siberia."

Krdzalic answers the main what-if question before it is even posed.

"If you turn [the fans] off, it's actually bearable," he says. "You can survive here probably five hours. The fans on, maybe fifteen minutes."

Next the ravioli moves to boxes and workers. A woman grabs green boxes of toasted ravioli for retail sale in pairs and swings them into bigger cardboard containers with skilled form.

Unlike the toasted ravioli that get sent to local restaurants and national chains with fryers, t-ravs in the green boxes are meant for home-cooking, and get flash-fried for about fifteen seconds to be oven ready.

Once, Krdzalic says, the macro fryer these t-ravs roll through randomly released a fire-suppressant system when he was right by it.

"I told [a] guy, 'I thought it's gonna be like an instant, freaking, you know," he says about the explosion he expected. "[I] was like one yard away. I just walked out."

In Krdzalic's new position, it's his job to respond to crises like this pseudo-fire and oversee production — a tough role.

"We're just trying to make it so that he doesn't die," Pete Baldetti jokes.

During Krdzalic's career at Louisa, life has changed for him. He has a wife and two kids now, and he lives in south county. He takes a vacation every year, exploring St. Louis and the United States — or rediscovering Europe.

"Every year, I go on vacation, because my father taught me that, and I'm from Europe," Krdzalic says. "Your vacation is [a] sacred thing."

But a lot, too, hasn't changed. Every day after work, as Krdzalic has done since getting a car, he just sits for a minute.

"If I'm close to four o'clock, then I will listen to the news," he says. "If it's already past four o'clock, then I will switch to the music, and I will sit for about a minute, minute and a half. And I have this satisfaction that we did something today, that I made something, that I resolved something."

If Krdzalic ever loses that feeling of satisfaction, he says, he will leave Louisa. But in 27 years, he hasn't, and that goes for his love for the company, too.

"Every time I go to any stores to get my beer or something, I always make a detour around the frozen food, and I check Louisa retail section and see what is missing or what, how they look and what's the date there," he says.

So, Krdzalic will continue to lead Louisa's production floor, supervising workers who, like him, came to the country with nothing, crafting a product which brings St. Louis pride: toasted ravioli.

"It's something so American," he says.

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