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Dining -- The pasta pot is always bubbling at downtown Forest Grove's new Italian eatery

For Dina Malamura, combining her culinary talents with running her own business is a dream come true.

'I've always wanted to be my own boss, and I love to cook,' said the 22-year-old Hillsboro resident, who is originally from Ukraine.

She recently purchased Café Maffei, the Italian restaurant which opened this month in the space formerly occupied by Café Bouchee in downtown Forest Grove. She bought the business from Sally and Matt Montgomery, who own Pacific Avenue Grill, just down the street.

The eateries, both located in the heart of Forest Grove's downtown business district, are a potent combination, Malamura believes.

Offering a lunch menu with entrees like penne with marinara sauce and fettuccini with meatballs, Café Maffei is a nice counterpoint to the grill's hearty sandwiches.

'I worked for Matt and Sally as a cook and server for two years, so when the opportunity came up to buy the restaurant, I jumped at it,' Malamura said.

Right now, the restaurant is open 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. After July 4, Malamura plans to open for dinner.

'Everyone that's been in here has been asking for dinner hours,' said Malamura, who opened for business June 7. 'That's been really rewarding.'

Malamura, who lived in Forest Grove for 15 years and attended local schools, named her restaurant after Matt Montgomery's grandmother.

The Montgomerys, who originally planned to open the eatery themselves, decorated with rich hues of tans, golds and yellows.

Several pieces of furniture, including a credenza and sideboard handmade by Malamura's father, Nikolay, grace corners of the restaurant.

There are four separate dining areas, including a space behind a gigantic steel door, which used to serve as a vault when the space operated as a bank.

It's all a bit overwhelming for Malamura, who wants to offer her customers the very best in service and quality.

'I want this to be a fine dining establishment,' she said, adding that her favorite item on the menu is ravioli with pesto.

Prices at the café range from $3 for a side salad to $12.50 for the salmon Alfredo. Entrees include a pasta main dish and a choice of soup or salad.

Samantha Strachan, 20, worked with Malamura at Forest Grove's Jennings McCall Center during high school. She's the lone server at the moment and appreciates Malamura's attention to detail.

'Dina goes out and greets every person who comes in,' said Strachan. 'It's that personal touch that will set us apart.'

Malamura said she was excited to offer a 'small, quiet place with great food' to the community, adding that her café is family friendly.

She hopes to transform an upstairs area into a space for 10-12 diners to hold meetings or celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions.

'I love happy customers,' Malamura said.