2. Don’t fight the pasta extruder. It can be hard for chefs coming from a fine-dining background to accept that they need a pasta extruder to keep up with production, but it can be essential to a business’s growth. “The workhorse of the whole concept is the extruder,” Gencarelli says. “We can produce large quantities of extruded semolina pasta instead of buying it.”
“In the beginning, coming from fine dining, we did everything by hand, and it just didn’t make sense labor-wise, especially for a fast casual,” Figura says. “A year later we were able to buy an extruder.”
3. Offer high-end options at affordable prices. Customers expect lower prices from a fast casual, but they also have high expectations from a restaurant that serves pasta.
At Grassa, guests choose between 10 pastas with prices ranging from $8 to $16. “Our goal at Grassa was to be the middle ground between the two spectrums of high-end and inexpensive pasta options,” Gencarelli says. “We didn’t want anyone to sacrifice their sensibilities; everyone is happy.”
Menu highlights at Grassa include rigatoni with Sunday pork ragu; squid ink chittara with Manila clams, Calabrian chili, pancetta, garlic, lemon and breadcrumbs; and cacio e pepe with truffle butter, salt, cracked pepper, and grana. “We have a little more wiggle room to add nicer ingredients because we’ve removed a lot of labor costs and the cost of pasta is so low,” Gencarelli says. “The cost for five ounces of extruded pasta starts around 11 cents.”
4. Keep pasta and sauces ready. Time is everything in a limited-service kitchen; the more you can have ready ahead of time, the more prepared you’ll be to meet order delivery times.
“We make pasta fresh and then immediately put it into the freezer, so it doesn’t dry out,” Figura says. “All of our pasta comes out of the freezer and cooks in less than five minutes; in a traditional ramen shop, the noodles cook in two to three minutes.” Figura says he’s accepted that there are some pasta shapes they cannot offer, such as bucatini, because it takes too long to cook. “We had to focus on shape as well as keeping things fresh,” he says.
“We make batches of pasta every day. One person comes in at 7 a.m. and makes the pasta in batches, weighing and portioning it so it’s always super fresh,” Gencarelli says. “We also make egg-dough pasta, which lets us vary the menu more.”
Sauces at Dio Mio are also made throughout the day, not to order. “When the sauce is already made, we can grab the designated amount, toss it with the pasta and add any additional acid, cheese or herbs,” Figura says.