THE MAKING OF PASTA FLYER
The dream of “pasta for the people” boiled up in Ladner’s mind nearly five years ago, while he was the executive chef of Del Posto. In 2014, he launched the first iteration of Pasta Flyer as a side hustle. Ladner and his business partner, Nastassia Lopez raised $85,000 via Kickstarterand used the funds to tour six college campuses in six states, selling quick-service, gluten-free pasta and using sales data from Square to build a business plan.
In the year that followed, Lopez enrolled in business school, developed the model, and found an investor. Ladner focused on the pasta.
“It started with my love, and hers as well, for pasta — specifically dry pasta,” Ladner tells me in his restaurant one afternoon; it was empty, because so far it’s only open for dinner, with Ladner working the line most nights. “For the last 20 years I’ve focused on making pasta my specialty. Working with Mario [Batali] and Joe [Bastianich], I always sort of felt, especially coming from really high-end dining, that there was no reason that people who aren’t wealthy shouldn’t have access to really good pasta.”
Thus, the concept was born. Still, he hadn’t found an Italian precedent for fast, good pasta. Instead, he looked to Japan, “where noodles are a viable and even preferred form of fast food,” Ladner says.
Operationally, Pasta Flyer functions a lot like a Tokyo ramen shop. “It’s basically slow food in back and fast food in front,” he says. “Everything up until where you order is cooked like a very traditional restaurant. It’s just that the service is lightning-fast.” When an order comes in, a line cook reheats the al dente pasta, stirs it in hot sauce and spoons it into a compostable bowl, to be sprinkled with cheese or crunchy garlic breadcrumbs. The futuristic UFO in Pasta Flyer’s logo represents “speed and efficiency,” while the black and white mural of Roman ruins at the counter recalls “the Italian culture of matriarchal food and wine.