Executive chef Mark Ladner of Del Posto led the New York City Italian restaurant to its first Michelin star, but by the time it was awarded, he had moved on to a bigger ambition — bringing fine-dining pasta to the masses for under $10.
"I always wanted to crack the code on making pasta that typically takes a long time to cook, and figure out a way to provide it to people more quickly without sacrificing the quality or the al dente bite," said Ladner, who left Del Posto last February to found his fast-casual pasta restaurant, Pasta Flyer. In November the fast-casual restaurant opened its first New York City location, in Greenwich Village.
Pasta Flyer is serving a few hundred people a day, about 50 percent being takeout and delivery orders. Ladner said lines are steady throughout the day, but they haven't had lines out the door, but he added that's a good thing as it can at least partially be attributed to an efficient and quick line.
Ladner is in good company among top chefs taking menus downscale — some of the world's most renowned restaurateurs are entering the fast-casual market, which promotes authentic ingredients and quick service while offering a slightly more expensive alternative to fast food chains.
Danny Meyer, founder and CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, opened Shake Shack in 2004. Momofuku's chef David Chang opened the six-store New York chain Fuku, and Chef José Andrés of minibar in Washington, D.C., opened Beefsteak in 2015. Chef Daniel Humm and Will Guidara of Eleven Madison Park and The Nomad opened their first fast-casual spot, Made Nice, in April of this year. Franklin Becker, a "Top Chef Master" and former head of several pricey New York City restaurants under the EMM Group brand, teamed with fast-food investment firm Aurify Brands to launch Little Beet in 2015.
Euromonitor estimated that the United States fast-food market was 10 percent fast-casual restaurants in 2015. One year later The National Restaurant Association estimated they consume 18 percent of the market, a $47 billion industry, and they're predicting that chef-driven fast-casual concepts will be a top trend in 2018.