Greg and Laura McLaughlin add mussels to the crab paella they’re cooking in the commercial kitchen in their Snohomish home’s garage. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Greg and Laura McLaughlin add mussels to the crab paella they’re cooking in the commercial kitchen in their Snohomish home’s garage. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Purchase Photo

Pickup paella: Couple sell the Spanish dish out of their garage

Paella House in Snohomish launched when the pandemic first hit. They’re managing to survive through to-go orders.

Since catering isn’t an option during the pandemic, Paella House in Snohomish offers the Spanish rice dish to-go.

Greg and Laura McLaughlin established the Snohomish franchise a year ago — just weeks after the first U.S. case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Everett.

When the McLaughlins couldn’t find a commercial kitchen in Snohomish County to take them on because of the coronavirus, they decided to build their own in their garage.

Then farmers markets, festivals, weddings and corporate events — the pan and mantequilla (“bread and butter” in Spanish) for Paella House — were banned to slow the spread of the virus. So they decided to offer takeout from their Snohomish home on Saturdays.

“The wild card in all this was COVID,” Greg McLaughlin said. “We thought, ‘Wow, we’re launching this business at the worst possible time.’ At that time it was really uncertain what impact COVID was really going to have.”

Paella is a popular Spanish dish featuring rice, saffron, paprika, chicken and seafood, cooked and served in a large shallow pan.

Laura and Greg McLaughlin work on to-go orders in the kitchen they built in their garage. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Laura and Greg McLaughlin work on to-go orders in the kitchen they built in their garage. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Originally from Valencia, a recipe for paella first appeared in an 18th century manuscript in Spain. The dish gets its name from the traditional pan in which it is prepared. Paella means “frying pan” in the Valencian language.

The McLaughlins met Alejandro de Basilio of Paella House at the Port Townsend Farmers Market. He founded the catering company in 2014.

“We fell into it by random happenstance,” Greg McLaughlin said. “He mentioned he was looking to expand the areas where he can serve authentic Spanish cuisine, and we had been looking to do something entrepreneurial for ourselves.

“Paella House checked all the boxes for us where our passions are: We love to cook, we love to serve people and we love to be involved in entertaining people, whether it’s at weddings or festivals.”

The McLaughlins trained with de Basilio in Port Townsend on how to make a number of paella dishes. The founder of Paella House is from Spain.

“We’d go to Port Townsend for the weekend, and we really learned the ins and outs of everything,” Laura McLaughlin said. “But we got thrown right into it with (Penn Cove) Musselfest last March. It changes so much at each stage of cooking, so it was really interesting, really good learning from someone who grew up making this food and over the years has perfected it.”

Crab and mussels cook in a large paella pan. Paella means “frying pan” in the Valencian language in Spain. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Crab and mussels cook in a large paella pan. Paella means “frying pan” in the Valencian language in Spain. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

When the coronavirus isn’t an issue, you can find Paella House at the Port Townsend and, hopefully, Snohomish farmers markets.

The franchise also offers authentic Spanish cuisine at festivals, such as Strange Brewfest in Port Townsend, University District Streetfair, Shirmpfest in Brinnon, Ballard Seafood Fest, Lavender Festival in Sequim, Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend and Crabfest in Port Angeles.

Or you can hire Paella House as a catering company for private parties — they specialize in weddings and corporate events.

Paella House imports its bomba rice, sausage, saffron, extra-virgin olive oil, paprika and, upon request, some seafood from Spain. All other ingredients are locally sourced.

The catering menu offers 10 different Spanish paellas, as well as Iberian charcuterie platters and ham.

Why paella? “It’s an incredible dish,” Greg McLaughlin said. “It’s visually stunning, it smells great, you can hear the ingredients sizzling on the pan. It hits all the senses. When you get to taste it, you’re blown away. It’s a simple dish with complex layers of flavors.”

The two most asked for are the Paella del Campo and Paella del Mar. Paella del Campo features chicken, chorizo, butifarra sausage, caramelized onions, garlic, bell peppers and tomatoes, while Paella del Mar has mussels, clams, prawns, calamari, caramelized onions, red and green bell peppers and tomatoes.

But the Paella House specialty is the Paella Valenciana — the original recipe found in the 18th century manuscript — made with chicken, giant white beans, green beans, caramelized onions, tomatoes and rosemary.

The McLaughlins start out a paella cook with onions and tomatoes. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The McLaughlins start out a paella cook with onions and tomatoes. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

“The Valenciana is actually my favorite,” Laura McLaughlin said. “I love all the flavors and simplicity of it — but it’s kind of like choosing a favorite daughter. You put so much care into each recipe, it’s like you’re creating this beautiful thing.”

The McLaughlins had a contractor convert their garage into a 325-square-foot commercial kitchen. It has refrigerators, sinks, a freezers, storage racks, prep tables and gas burners.

“We call it small but mighty,” Greg McLaughlin said. “It does the job.”

The Snohomish Health District approved the McLaughlins’ request to offer paella to go from the kitchen. Each Saturday, they’ll cook four to six different paellas for to-go orders. They’ve had customers from as far away as West Seattle, Bellevue, Renton and Sammamish.

“We’ve met tons of great people who are interested in supporting small businesses that are struggling during this time,” Greg McLaughlin said. “It’s obviously not replacing all of the events we would have catered, but it’s helped us stay afloat and pay some of the bills.”

Customers line up at the McLaughlin home in Snohomish to pick up their to-go orders. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Customers line up at the McLaughlin home in Snohomish to pick up their to-go orders. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

While the McLaughlins own the Paella House, they still have day jobs: Greg, 50, works for a food broker and Laura, 49, is a dental assistant. They joke that have a 30-second commute to their second job in the garage. They hope they can turn Paella House into their careers.

“We’re trying to stay positive and look for the silver linings with what COVID has dealt everybody,” Greg McLaughlin said. “We had more time to train together, work on all aspects of the business and hone our craft. We’re optimistic for the future.”

Don’t have Valentine’s Day plans? Go for a taste of Spain by ordering paella to go for you and your sweetheart on Feb. 13.

Sara Bruestle: 425-339-3046; sbruestle@heraldnet.com; @sarabruestle.

If you go

Paella House, 15115 72nd Drive SE, Snohomish, is offering takeout on Saturdays only. Preorder your paella by noon Saturday for pickup between 4 and 6 p.m. Call 425-530-1312 or go to paella.house for to-go orders. Email contact@paella.house to book catering for your next event.

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