Only a few months after authoring the definitive Del Posto cookbook, which was published this past November, the restaurant’s chef, Mark Ladner, has announced plans to leave the iconic Italian restaurant to open a quick-serve pasta startup, Pasta Flyer.
Reinventing a College Staple
The Pasta Flyer concept was directly inspired by the hyper-efficiency and endless customization of Japanese ramen shops.
“While traveling to Japan, I saw the efficiency of how ramen shops operate to produce food that can be a quick, healthy snack or a nourishing meal,” Ladner noted in 2014, when he launched Pasta Flyer as a Kickstarter campaign. “In US and Italian culture, there’s no precedent for that kind of operation. The food at Pasta Flyer is traditionally and classically Italian — it’s not fusion food, but it’s created in an Asian delivery style.”
That Fall, Ladner rolled out a Kickstarter-funded whistle-stop tour of East Coast college towns, including a stop at his alma mater, JWU’s Providence Campus. His endlessly customizable pasta bowls with mix-and-match pasta shapes, proteins, sauces and garnishes — all reasonably priced — were a huge hit with JWU students.
Pasta Flyer 2.0
The first iteration of Pasta Flyer was resolutely gluten-free; so far it is not clear whether or not Version 2.0 will stick to that limitation. (Since Ladner has worked very hard to develop a gluten-free pasta that avoids common gluten-free pitfalls like gumminess, he’d do well to serve both. A recent New York Times story lacked any details about plans for the brick-and-mortar version’s menu.)
Ladner, a 1990 graduate of JWU who also received an honorary doctorate in 2014, has worked for Mario Batali for nearly two decades, first as the pasta whisperer at Lupa, a pasta-centric trattoria, and most recently at Del Posto, widely regarded as one of the finest Italian restaurants in New York City.
"Surround Yourself with a Strong Team"
In 2015, we got Mark and fellow JWU Providence alum Lena Kwak '07 together to chat about Pasta Flyer and Cup4Cup, their respective ventures. At the time, Mark had this to say about the challenges of getting Pasta Flyer off the ground:
“I’ve been working as a professional chef and working in the kitchen for I’d say the last 30 years. The thing that I’ve learned most recently, and is really important to mention — particularly in this day and age — about being an entrepreneur, is the number of skill sets required to be good at what you do is nearly immeasurable. So many left and right brain skill sets, it’s hard for one person to contain them all. ...It’s really important to surround yourself with a strong team that can execute the vision that you have in mind. In that regard, I’d say it’s very similar to running a kitchen. Without a strong team executing the menu that you want, it would be very hard to run a night service. And with business, it would be the same: if you’re looking to produce a product you need to have the right people in place.”
It may be that Ladner, having painstakingly re-worked opulent Del Posto dishes like 100-layer lasagna and spiced duck for home cooks to replicate via the cookbook, decided he needed to move on to the next challenge. According to the Times, the first Pasta Flyer outlet is currently under construction in New York City’s Greenwich Village.
AUGUST 2017 UPDATE: Eater NY offers a sneak peek at PastaFlyer’s new space in their 22 Most Anticipated Fall Restaurant Openings sampler. The details: No single dish over $10. Lots of customizable add-ons like whipped ricotta and garlic crumbs, as well as a new array of side dishes like fried cauliflower and spicy broccoli rabe. Pastas will no longer exclusively be gluten-free, but Ladner’s gourmet GF noodles will be on tap for sure.