Mary’s Pizza Shack uses pasta’s versatility to connect with guests despite the labor crisis.

The labor crisis challenging restaurants throughout the industry is making it harder to execute day-to-day operations, let alone innovate. That’s part of the reason menus are being pared down—according to Datassential, as of August 2021, 60 percent of restaurants had trimmed the size of their menus since last year.

At the same time, diners are back to dining out and hungry for on-trend dishes that are new and exciting. That’s why many brands are turning to pasta, a familiar, versatile ingredient that can serve as the backbone of a variety of traffic-driving dishes—something worth celebrating this October, which happens to be National Pasta Month, says Yury Krasilovsky, a research and development chef with Barilla.

“What makes pasta so right for the moment is its versatility,” Krasilovsky says. “Even when you’re in a labor crunch, pasta is one of those ingredients you can easily and consistently prep. Heading into the fall, it’s comfort food season, so whether your focus is authentic Italian cuisine or an awesome mac and cheese, pasta is going to deliver.”

Northern California-based Mary’s Pizza Shack has been a respected family-owned, regional brand for over 50 years, serving up pizza, pasta, and other Italian fare. The brand’s marketing director, Jacob Perez, calls pasta the ultimate comfort item that his customers connect with, likely because it invokes memories of family gatherings and lends itself to sharing. That works out well for his kitchens, which have robust catering and takeout production. Perez reports that his restaurants use Barilla’s pasta for all occasions because of its quality and durability.

“One of the guiding principles we have is that we serve quality food,” Perez says. “And Barilla fits right into that, because the quality of Barilla is excellent. It holds up well whether it’s at a catered event or in a takeout container. The pasta also helps bring out the full flavor of our homemade sauces.”

In honor of National Pasta Month, a year ago, Mary’s Pizza Shack rolled out a special promotion with the assistance of Barilla. It was a contest with different prizes, including gift certificates and the Mary’s Pizza Shack official cookbook, and the 17-unit restaurant chain received over 2,500 entries. It generated a ton of excitement, Perez says, and was an example of the way Barilla helps his brand connect with its loyal following outside of just being a pasta vendor.

“The Barilla team was extremely helpful in coming up with ideas, even helping design the assets surrounding the promotion,” Perez says. “They really go the extra mile for restaurants like ours. As a small, family-owned business, to be able to have partners like Barilla that work alongside us and within our brand standards is pretty unique. You have to like that personal touch, and I think that’s what makes them different from other vendors.”

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