Nardello’s Fresh Pasta began, owner Joe Nardo says, as “a way to pay the bills” after the pandemic shut down his day job in the kitchen at San Francisco fine dining spot Lazy Bear. But somewhere along the way, Nardo caught the entrepreneurship bug, and instead of using the new hustle to kill time until restaurants fully reopen, he’s made the decision to strike out on his own, opening a small brick-and-mortar “workshop” in the Mission, where passersby can see him and his colleagues hand-crafting Nardello’s goods, as well as pick up orders they’ve placed online.
The ground-floor workshop is at the 18th Street tip of ActivSpace, a mixed use building that stretches along Treat Street until it’s interrupted by PG&E’s vast headquarters. The structure made headlines last year after confusion over the building’s zoning status placed many of its tenants in jeopardy. The property’s shifting status doesn’t worry Nardo too much, as “it’s just a month-to-month lease” for a very small space, from which he can roll out and package pasta, and display bottles of Nardello’s pomodoro sauce or jars of preserved Eureka lemons or blood oranges.
It’s a big step up from how things began in March. Back then, Nardo was living in the Outer Richmond with another Lazy Bear chef, Will Treff. The pair had a spare bedroom, and when Lazy Bear shut its dining room down to customers (the spot, which is known for its support of side projects for its chefs, is currently offering takeout meal kits and sandwiches), Nardo and Treff turned that extra room into a pasta-making workroom. By April Nardello’s had an Instagram account, offering handmade fresh pasta via DM or text that folks could then cook up at home.
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Things took off from there, with a website and an ordering page. There are even titles: Nardo is chef/owner, while Treff is director of culinary operations. But still, “people are just coming to our house,” Nardo said, “and that can get weird,” especially when customers see your address on your professional-looking website and show up at your door while you’re watching TV, sleeping, or doing all the other things one does while at home. Nardello’s is popular enough that that’s started happening more and more.
Now it’s time to make the leap from “text me and I’ll run a box of pasta out my front door to you” to “regular hours, where if you don’t make it today you come back tomorrow,” Nardo says. Like a, um, regular business? “Ha, yeah.”
It’s a leap that’s tough to make when you’ve been out of work — yes, even when you’ve launched a successful text-based takeout pop-up. Just signing the lease for the Mission District space has “put us at zero,” Nardo says, hence Nardello’s Kickstarter for a modest $5,000 to get the business fully up and running. Really, just $5,000? “It’s a small pasts shop,” Nardo says. “We don’t need anything crazy to open that.”
Part of Nardo’s self-described “transition from cook to entrepreneur” means that he’s still figuring out exactly what form his business will take. Fresh pasta with cooking instructions is a definite, Nardo says. “We’ll be selling ingredients people can use to make things at home, that’s the goal.”
But, still, he says that “selling ingredients” doesn’t give him the “same satisfaction as serving a completed dish,” so Nardello’s is also working on a dinner party series at a private SoMa loft, as well as the prepared-foods pop-ups and dinners that have already gotten the business over a thousand-plus fans. In the future, Nardo’s thinking about pasta-making classes, and other revenue streams. One thing he won’t be doing is going back to a day job as soon as the world goes back to normal (whenever that may be).
“I didn’t start this thinking it would turn into anything,” Nardo says. “But now I’m ready to put everything I have into this to make it work.”