The low-carbohydrate craze couldn't starve a long-running Ashland pasta shop of affection. And the more recent call for gluten-free foods just gives Wiley's World another way to satisfy its fans.
Organic noodles and ravioli made fresh daily still command a loyal following at Wiley's, where "business has just been getting better," says owner Gretchen Boylan.
Since purchasing the 18-year-old restaurant from founders Terry and Julie Wiley in December 2009, Boylan has seen customers' preference for organic foods hold fast while gluten-free diners have become a "much more important" demographic, along with vegans. Regardless of dietary persuasion, says Boylan, eating healthfully is "extremely important" to Wiley's average patron.
Using Wiley's menu as a "template," diners choose between six shapes of pasta that can be prepared 11 different ways with the possibility of tacking on five proteins: chicken, meatballs, shrimp, tofu and smoked salmon. Almost any dish can be adjusted for taste, allergies or personal philosophy of eating, says Boylan.
Personalizing plates is possible because Wiley's makes so much from scratch. Handmade pastas are paired with house-made sauces. Organic salads get homemade red onion-poppyseed vinaigrette with a side of home-baked Italian herb bread. Desserts are, naturally, homemade.
"It feels decadent; it feels homey," says Janet Langley, owner of Medford's Rose Yoga Center and Wiley's regular.
If they don't dine in or take their orders to go, customers can choose from several types of pasta and sauces stocked at Wiley's for retail sale. Pasta comes in 1-pound packages, priced between $4.95 and $8.50. Marinara is $5.25 for 18 ounces, and a 12-ounce jar of Alfredo costs $6.95.
"We haven't changed any of the recipes," says Boylan.
When the Wileys started manufacturing pasta in 1993, organic was driving Ashland's food trend. Boylan still purchases certified-organic flour and eggs in bulk for the restaurant's pasta-making operations. Gluten-free and vegan pastas made from quinoa and rice flours are certified organic but cannot be made in house for lack of space to separate them from wheat flour, the culprit in autoimmune reactions and allergies to gluten, a naturally occurring plant protein. Gluten-free orders are cooked in conscientiously cleaned pots and pans.
Vegetables, meat and sugar also are certified organic; seafood is wild-caught and many mushrooms wild-harvested. Amid rising interest in locally grown and produced foods, Wiley's increasingly sources produce from small, local farmers who can't afford to certify their products as organic but still use sustainable practices, says Boylan.
Paying a premium for many ingredients compared with mainstream versions, Wiley's shoulders the expense of two employees who roll out and cut hundreds of pounds of pasta weekly in a room behind the restaurant. Some sheets are stuffed with house-made fillings, including chicken smoked over wood chips on the premises. It's a labor-intensive product that Boylan reinstituted in response to diner demand since the Wileys took it off their menu.
For all that hard work — in a soft economy, no less — the new owner has raised prices by a mere 70 cents per serving, meaning entrees that come with a salad and bread are priced between $10.95 and $12.25. Portions can be downsized, supersized or ordered a la carte, with prices adjusted accordingly.
Removed from Ashland's tourist center and squeezed into a small building next to Four and Twenty Blackbirds Bakery on Ashland Street, Wiley's has just 10 tables punctuated with a playful, well-worn decor. Changes have been so subtle that some longtime customers are unaware the Wileys no longer own the business, says Boylan.
The nearly seamless transition compliments Boylan, who had no prior experience managing restaurants and spent just a short stint as a teenager waiting tables. The 42-year-old former substitute teacher for Medford and Central Point schools met the Wileys through Griffin Creek Elementary, where their sons were students. Dallas Boylan and Austin Wiley became best friends at South Medford High School and both worked as cooks at Wiley's, which Gretchen Boylan regularly patronized both for the food and the atmosphere.
"I loved the place ... because it was unique in a lot of ways," she says.
When the Wileys decided to sell, Dallas worried he'd lose his job — unless his parents decided to buy. An idea broached as a joke soon seemed more and more appealing, says Boylan. In less than six months, she and husband Bill had hammered out a deal with the Wileys, which included keeping on most of the 16 employees, who Boylan says constitute — along with regular customers — the restaurant "family."
"It wouldn't have been any other business," says Boylan. "I really believed in what the Wileys were doing here."