Italian Fast-Casual Restaurants Are Heating Up in the U.S.


Sbarro and Olive Garden have fresh competition as modern brands move in with new pasta and pizza options.

The following article, written by Chris Crowley, appears on GrubStreet.com.

Is Italian Food the Next Frontier of Fast-Casual Eating?

Pity Sbarro. The Brooklyn-born chain has been operating for more than half a century, but its days as a food-court mainstay might be numbered. All across the country, even as the market becomes more saturated, restaurateurs and titans of industry are gunning to create the next fast-casual behemoth — and lately, it seems lots of them have their sights set on Italian food. Specifically, “Italian food” that is all-but-guaranteed to appeal to as many Americans as possible: pasta and pizza.

For a businessperson, the appeal is clear. “Pizza and pasta, those obviously have low food costs. It’s dough,” Nation’s Restaurant News writer Bret Thorn says. “No matter how high wheat prices get, it’s still going to be an inexpensive item, so these places can be highly profitable.”

Established players around the country are unveiling restaurants that strike a balance: as accessible and affordable as Sbarro (or Olive Garden), but more modern, fresh, and delicious. On the pasta front alone, New York has Sola Pasta Bar, whose chef worked at Eataly Rome and wants to open locations around the city. The Sosta comes from executive chef Ali LaRaia and ESquared Hospitality creative director Samantha Wasser, who struck fast-casual gold with the vegetable-focused by CHLOE concept. Pasta Flyer, from acclaimed chef Mark Ladner, isn’t even open yet, but it’s easily the most highly anticipated noodle-related project to hit Manhattan in a while. Continue reading at GrubStreet.com.

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