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Local buyers might reopen idled Cando pasta plant

CANDO -- A shuttered pasta plant in the northeastern North Dakota city of Cando might reopen soon under new ownership.

A group of local buyers hopes to close a deal to purchase the former Noodles by Leonardo plant by the end of the month, Towner County Economic Development Director JoAnn Rodenbiker told the Grand Forks Herald. The local buyers include brothers Jim and Bruce Gibbens, who operate a large hog farm near the city of about 1,500 people.

"The idea of the plant reopening is good news for Cando," said Jim Gibbens, who also is president of the Economic Development Corp. and a former mayor.

About 30 people lost their jobs when the plant closed last October, about six months after a sister plant closed in nearby Devils Lake. That plant was later sold to Ultra Green Packaging, a Twin Cities-based company that manufactures biodegradable food service products such as disposable plates and containers made from wheat or sugar cane fiber. The company hopes to start production this summer.

The Noodles by Leonardo plant, founded by Twin Cities businessman Leonard Gasparre, was touted as the nation's first integrated durum mill and pasta plant when it opened in 1980 in Cando, center of what was then known as the "Durum Triangle." In the 1970s and 1980s, an estimated 80 percent of the nation's durum -- a wheat variety popular in pasta manufacturing -- was grown within a 90-mile radius of Cando. Until the plant opened, the durum was shipped to mills hundreds and even thousands of miles away. Mills turn the grain into flour, and plants turn the flour into pasta.

The Devils Lake plant opened in 1991 with about 100 employees. In recent years, the Cando plant produced the company's line of retail and food service pasta products, such as spaghetti noodles and macaroni. The Devils Lake plant manufactured value-added pasta products under several brand names, including boxed macaroni and cheese and hamburger mixes such as beef stroganoff.

Gasparre, who moved to Devils Lake in the 1990s but maintained a home in Las Vegas, died in 2011. The Gasparre family sold the Devils Lake plant and consolidated operations in Cando about a year ago.