Art Ibleto, Sonoma County’s Pasta King, dies at 94
Many grand and benevolent community leaders have graced Sonoma County since the Second World War, but in a kitchen-aproned and beaming immigrant named Art Ibleto, the region had its only king.
The Pasta King died late Tuesday morning at his home in Cotati. He was 94.
Ibleto had introduced legions of locals to the penne, spaghetti and polenta with pesto and/or marinara that he served at the Sonoma County Fair and countless other public events and caterings. Again and again for decades, he took the initiative to ladle vast quantities of his foods for free at benefit pasta feeds that brought people together to raise substantial donations for all manner of charitable, educational and civic endeavors and for people celebrating victories or confronting tragedy or great need here and overseas.
Famously robust, endearing and fun loving, Ibleto was just days ago still going into his commercial kitchen at the Pasta King complex near Cotati to cook. The self-made man, former teenage fighter in the Italian Resistance, tireless entrepreneur and embodiment of kind-hearted royalty was brought home Monday from Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. He was taken there by ambulance Nov. 14 with medical issues that included a serious infection.
“When I die,” he said in his 2016 self-published memoir, “I don’t want people to be sad. What a life!”
The barrel-chested and proud Wine Country cultural monarch spoke often of how lucky he was. He could have been killed any number of times while, at 17 and 18 in his native northern Italy, he menaced the Nazis and fascists as a freedom fighter known by the code name K2.
Ibleto counted among his most fortunate days the one in fall of 1949 that, as a 22-year-old immigrant picking zucchini in Petaluma, he met a lovely Sonoma County native, Victoria Eleanor Ghirardelli.
They married in Cotati in 1951 and together reared two children, Mark and Annette, and stone-by-stone built a small empire that encompassed a custom butcher shop, a long-ago Christmas tree farm, the Spaghetti Palace on the county fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, a catering and freezer-case foods operation, vineyards that produce premium wine grapes, rental houses and a partnership in the popular Rohnert Park restaurant, Art's Place. They had been married nearly 70 years when Victoria Ibleto died on Good Friday of 2019, at 87.
Art Ibleto felt lucky, too, that his kid brother, Angelo, now 87, decades ago emigrated from Italy to join him in Sonoma County. Angelo Ibleto has become renowned for the sausages, jerky and other delicacies at Angelo’s Meats in Petaluma and Angelo’s Wine Country Deli, outside of Sonoma. At some of the region’s tastiest festivals and other culinary events, pastas boiled and stirred with red or green sauce by the elder Ibleto paired memorably with the younger’s grilled tri-tips or boneless, stuffed and roasted pig.
The diligent and stubbornly old-school Art Ibleto would often declare that many of the ills plaguing America would vanish were three basic values practiced more widely: common sense, gratitude for the abundant opportunities that come with living in a free country and a willingness to work.
He wasn't the least ashamed that as a kid in Italy he'd gone to school only through the fifth grade. Just the opposite. He held up his success and his stature as one of Sonoma County’s best known businessmen and philanthropists as proof that if he could do it, anyone can.
“I got no degree,” he said in his autobiography, “Freedom Fighter to King,” “but all you need is strong will, passion for what you do and common sense.”
Through the course of his long, extraordinary and deeply textured life, Ibleto served as state president of the Sons of Italy, he met presidents and celebrities, he fed big crowds at benefit dinners for his longtime friend, Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, and he was bestowed just about every local, state and congressional award for his accomplishments and community service.
In the spring of 2018, friend Mike McGuire, the Democratic state senator from Healdsburg, welcomed him onto the Senate floor and presented him a resolution in honor of “a lifetime of achievements and meritorious service to humanity.” In August of 2019, the regional Boy Scouts of America council named Ibleto its Distinguished Citizen, an honor earlier presented to community giants such as Henry Trione, Charles Schulz, Lucille Kelly, Hugh Codding, Benny Friedman, William McNeeny, Gene and Dan Benedetti, Joe Rattigan, Sharon Wright, W.C. “Bob” Trowbridge, James Keegan Sr. and Jr., Rick Call and Rob Giordano.
Ibleto laughed right along with the relatives and others who noticed at the outset of the Boy Scouts banquet at Santa Rosa Golf & Country Club that as he stepped from the elevator, the slacks to his seldom-worn suit fell to his ankles. His usual wardrobe was a Pasta King pullover shirt, a Pasta King apron and sweatpants.