Despite the insistence of financial analysts that we’re not in a recession, chef Anthony Strong disagrees: “Everybody’s feeling the squeeze,” he says. So in a region where dining out can easily spiral into pretty expensive territory, a few new Bay Area restaurants such as Strong’s Pasta Supply Co. in San Francisco’s Richmond District and Sfizio in Oakland aim to bring pricing down, one fresh pasta dish at a time. “We were joking around a couple of weeks ago about how we should totally make a baseball cap that says, ‘Make Pasta Affordable Again,’” Strong says.
Affordability was on Strong’s mind as he began working on what became Pasta Supply Co., the pasta shop and restaurant that debuted earlier this year. Similarly, durability was also top of mind. To achieve both, Strong created a restaurant model that eschews some of the trappings of running a full-service restaurant, such as the need to fill an 80-seat dining room. That means the restaurant side of operations at Pasta Supply Co. is on the smaller side, which helps make lower pricing possible. At Pasta Supply Co., most fresh pasta dishes hover around the $17 mark or lower. For example, strands of house-made mafaldine cooked simply in butter and cheese costs $14, while rigatoni in a lamb ragu costs $17. The single high-ticket item is the lobster butter spaghetti, which costs $22 on the seasonal menu. Strong also sells wine, so he doesn’t allow corkage, but glasses generally cost under $16 while a bottle bumps up against the $40 mark. “I’m a dude from Iowa,” Strong says, “I barely grew up with eating out. I just wanted a place where people can come in and eat, and not sweat the bill at all.”
Both Strong and chef Matt Solimano of Sfizio pointed to Seattle’s Il Corvo as inspiration for their new restaurants. Il Corvo became well-known nationally for its inexpensive, quality pasta priced at around $10 a plate. When Sfizio opened in May 2023, Solimano was committed to opening with low prices; the cost of a plate of pasta typically doesn’t go much past $16. “Noodle Theory mentioned it when they closed, they basically said, ‘If we have to charge $25 for a bowl of noodles, then it’s not worth running,’” Solimano told Eater SF in May. “That’s not the restaurant we want, and so part of me wants to say, ‘Let’s see, let’s start low.’”
In that same vein, Strong wants to keep things affordable, saying it is an important part of his shop and restaurant — and that the hospitality industry needs to figure out how to provide an inexpensive restaurant experience for customers since there’s certainly an audience for it. “With the approachable, priced-less restaurant experience, there’s just an opportunity there that’s unserved,” he says. “We all know it’s expensive as hell to live here, and I’m hoping to keep things as affordable as I set out to be. I’ve literally had customers thank me for our pricing.”
The tradeoff for affordable pasta, however, may be the level of service. At both Pasta Supply Co. and Sfizio, orders are taken at the door rather than a more conventional full-service model with servers who take orders at the table. There are no reservations, which means neither owner has to pay a third-party company like OpenTable or Resy for service — but does sometimes result in a wait at peak dining times.
Strong readily admits he’s still in the early stages and that the “jury’s still out on whether or not we can make it.” But he’s giving it the best shot he can, even if it’s in a casual setting. “We opened a tiny dining room to keep our prices affordable,” Strong says, “which I know we can do because pasta is pretty affordable to make. But we can pack this [dining room] and we can make it casual, and so far it’s gone well.”