The future really is upscale chains, and the next chef stepping into the ring is Gerard Craft, the beloved St. Louis chef/owner of Niche, Pastaria, Brasserie by Niche, and Taste. One of the most anticipated fast-casual concepts of the season, Craft's Porano Pasta offers up customizable bowls of pasta, farro, rice, or salad coupled with toppings that lean Italian, like meatballs and Calabrian-spiced tofu. "The thing I really like about this food is that it's still just cooking," explains Craft. "We're still doing all the sauces the same way we would do sauces for any restaurant that we open... the only thing 'fast' about it is the service."
"I think the one advantage that we have is we understand food and we understand hospitality."
Craft doesn't have fast-food experience, and he says that's a good thing. "I think the one advantage that we have is we understand food and we understand hospitality," he says. "We know what's good, what tastes good." He says transitioning to fast-casual has been a matter of spending time on systems "to make it fast, how to make it accessible." To that end, the spacious interior has large, bright signage, ample room for line-waiters, and plenty of orange cookware on display.
Craft is not shy about his expansion ambitions, explaining that he wants to open at least one other location this year in St. Louis. "We want to test it in two markets," he adds, "one in downtown and one in more of a suburban city area." Meanwhile, he is bringing a location of his bustling pasta restaurant Pastaria to Nashville, too. Porano Pasta officially opens to the public for lunch service on Tuesday, January 26. Take a look around.