Pasta Flyer, the fast-food restaurant from Del Posto chef Mark Ladner, has finally landed in New York City. The restaurant has been in the works since 2014, when Ladner launched a Kickstarter for what was then a “quick-service gluten-free pasta concept” modeled after Japanese ramen shops. In the years since, the idea has evolved to include gluten, but speed is still its chief component: In fact, Ladner and partner Nastassia Lopez want Pasta Flyer to be the McDonald’s of pasta.
Unlike other fine dining chefs making forays into quick-service cuisine, Ladner is upfront about serving fast food. The long-delayed restaurant opens this week with a menu featuring mix-and-match pastas (including fusilli, fettucine, rigatoni, and gluten-free penne) and sauces (like basil pesto, alfredo, and marinara) for as little as $6, and Ladner expects the whole process, from ordering to a customer receiving food, to take under a minute. A “Nonna loves you” meal, which includes spaghetti and meatballs in marinara sauce with a side salad and drink, costs $9.99.
But, Ladner says, his role as priest at “America’s high church of pasta” — as Eater restaurant editor Bill Addison put it in a favorable Del Posto review — will make Pasta Flyer a more “healthful” fast-food option: Many ingredients will come from the same purveyors as those used at the Michelin-starred Del Posto. And Pasta Flyer isn’t the first casual venture to come from the Del Posto team: Former pastry chef Brooks Headley opened New York veggie burger spot Superiority Burger in 2015, and it’s now known for drawing long lines.
Other restaurateurs have attempted fast-casual pasta restaurants in recent years, but they have yet to catch on with consumers like other foods in the genre have. Pasta, unlike burritos or pizza, can be tricky to prepare quickly, and the many existing Italian restaurants in the U.S. are often appealing because they selling a more personal, familial experience, according to Fabio Parasecoli, a director of Food Studies Initiatives at the New School. That vibe may be difficult for a fast-casual restaurant to recreate, although Pasta Flyer’s “Nonna loves you” meal is a clear attempt.
Although many chefs admit to jumping into more casual concepts as a way to balance profit margins within a larger restaurant group, Ladner says money isn’t his chief priority. “It’s compelling to be able to serve inexpensive food and change the culture of how we eat, rather than the elitism of fine dining,” he said to Eater NY, noting that eventually, the Pasta Flyer team plans to grow to reach areas of the country without healthier fast-food options, like the Midwest. “It’s not like free money in the street [to do fast food]. It’s just as hard. It’s different.”