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Food & Drink

The pasta chef upending the restaurant biz—and making money while he’s at it

With his second Pasta Supply Co now open, one chef has learned a thing or two about the business. And he has some advice.

A man with tattoos and glasses, wearing a cap and a white uniform, leans on a glass counter filled with pasta in a well-lit store with shelves of products behind him.
The man with the plan: Anthony Strong of Pasta Supply Co | Source: Morgan Ellis/The Standard

Anthony Strong’s story has an underdog, made-for-“The-Bear” narrative arc. In 2020, the chef—who learned to craft gorgeous pasta as the chef of Delfina and the now-shuttered Locanda—opened his first restaurant, Prairie, a California-style full-service establishment that cost him $11,000 a month in rent and almost $90,000 in payroll. It failed in short order, lasting only a year. 

Sure, it was the pandemic—as he put it to Eater, “a battle zone of a year”—but Prairie’s closure was complicated, Strong will tell you. Restaurants, as they stand, are still utilizing an excruciatingly ineffective business model. Particularly if you’re in San Francisco, which functions as the food world’s Barry’s Bootcamp, forcing restaurateurs to deadlift our city’s astronomical food, labor and rent costs until they burn out.

After Prairie closed, Strong took the next logical step. He bought a vintage white VW camper van, called it Superstella and started a four-person “restaurant” out of it. For 11 months, he functioned blissfully as chef and server. 

Superstella taught him the joy of being thrifty and the profitability of staying small. This is something that he has applied to his newest venture, Pasta Supply Co., which just opened its second location in the Mission less than a year after the first launched in the Inner Richmond. “To a degree, the van snapped me out of focusing on a classic restaurant model,” he says.

The image shows a close-up of uncooked, curly-shaped pasta, with a yellow-golden color and a lightly dusted surface. The pieces are irregularly twisted.
Fresh gramigna is just one of up to 30 shapes of pasta available at the newly-opened Mission District location of Pasta Supply Co. | Source: Morgan Ellis/The Standard
A man operates a pasta-making machine, feeding yellow pasta sheets into it. He's wearing a cap and glasses and is surrounded by bins containing yellow pasta.
To save on labor, Strong does not make pasta by hand and instead relies on pasta makers to do the work. | Source: Morgan Ellis/The Standard

Today, Pasta Supply has evolved into some kind of pasta heaven: A retail store-cum-restaurant featuring 15 or so sauces that run the gamut from rather classic (fava bean pesto) to rather wacky (Calabrian XO), plus 30 shapes of pasta, an abbreviated dining menu and loud music. The closest comparison might be Eataly, if it was small and punk rock.

Put your hand to Strong and you can feel the fire beneath. He is a man determined to figure this restaurant equation out, even if it means attempting to finish the cement slab floor at his new location on his own—and then having to redo it twice. Beneath his signature flat-brim baseball cap, his brain runs hot, a non-stop monologue of creative ideas, punctuated by “dude” and relayed with enthusiastic upspeak.

Whether he’s learning how to do electrical work via a YouTube video or ordering (what turned out to be a dysfunctional) refrigerated case half-off via a restaurant supply auction, Strong is determined to prove that there actually is a better way to do this restaurant thing—and have a good time while you’re at it.

The Pasta Supply formula

1. Fewer seats, leaner staff

“The traditional restaurant seating map of 80 seats doesn’t work as well as it used to. You need the staff. And since SF isn’t a late-night city, you’re trying to make all your money filling up that big dining room between the hours of 6 and 9 pm. Pasta Supply runs with a host, one person on the floor who also runs beverage, one at the retail counter and one manager in charge of service. For us, this model has worked very well.”

2. Have the host take the order

“We decided to have our guests order with the host before they sit, an idea loosely based on a place I love from a run-down market in Naples called Cibi Cotti. The nonna is sitting at the front door and she’s like, ‘How many?’ She then takes your order, points to your table. There’s a level of chill, matter-of-fact service. This has also shaved off that first 15 minutes when you’re sitting at your table before a server comes over. So much dead time. However, some people who are expecting a more cheffy experience hate it.”

3. Make dinner quick

“For dinner, we’re at about 50 minutes for a two- to four-top. I think it does suit our culture’s current attention span. When you think of going out to eat, it automatically means a two-hour commitment. There must be some people like me who want to go out for under $100, under an hour, without having to get a salad or a burrito. That is our niche.”

4. Stop being so precious

“We did a couple test dinners before we opened our first location on Clement Street, and used ceramic plates and silverware and wine glasses. My fiancé and her friends came in and said, you’ve got to switch to bamboo plateware—the white plates with the sound of a fork hitting it sounds too ‘restaurant restaurant.’” 

5. Design it yourself

“I didn’t hire a designer, contractor or architect—for better or for worse. It definitely takes more time. But it turns out YouTube comes in handy. It’s like, oh dude, I can watch videos on how to properly tile. For furniture, I bought a lot of stuff used. Instead of spending money on new walnut tabletops, I bought butcher block from Home Depot and cut it down into tabletops.”

6. Conjure Rihanna

“I didn’t have a budget for design or branding. I knew whatever our look was needed to be straightforward. I was trying to think about what the hell we would do when I saw Rihanna’s poster for the Super Bowl. So I had my friend design our package labels like it using inDesign so we can execute all of our own labels in-house.”

The image shows a large yellow roll of material mounted on a metal dispenser, with the material being fed through the machine, possibly for processing or cutting.
Pasta dough, brightened by saffron, is fed onto a spool as a flat sheet before getting shaped. | Source: Morgan Ellis/The Standard

7. Splurge wisely

“All of our pasta is made from one dough, and to save on labor, we don’t make any pasta by hand. Our biggest investment is the pasta makers. Clement has a penne attachment for the extruder that cost $2,300. But I also got a refurbished 30-year-old Emiliomiti tortellini machine that can execute about 1500 tortellini per hour for our Mission space. Let’s just say, it was a good deal.”

8. Think out of the box

“The Clement Street space doesn’t have a full hood and it doesn’t have gas. We are not allowed to cook raw meat in the space. I thought, well, I can boil pasta and I can reheat things. So we made lamb ragu using roasted lamb legs from Souvla and for chicken, we used Roli Roti. But it’s obviously cheaper and easier to make things from scratch, so we started looking for a kitchen and found our Mission District space, which used to be the Dumpling Club. It has a big kitchen and room for retail and dining, too.”

9. Be efficient

“We have two mother sauces that we use as a base for most everything. One of those is a straight-up tomato sauce and we also make a sugo base with vegetables roasted overnight and passed through a food mill.”

The image shows a display fridge stocked with various pasta sauces in clear plastic containers labeled with flavors like mushroom, sage brown butter, tomato vodka, and white sauce.
Over 15 pasta sauces, both classic and highly un-Italian, are ready to bring home. | Source: Morgan Ellis/The Standard

10. Nerd out

“Honestly, we’re just fucking geeks. We come up with new sauces constantly. Out of those two mother sauces, we have between 15 and 24 sauces for sale at all times. I really want people to see all the potential combinations that they can make at home. Some guests try everything, work their way from one side of the display case to the other.”

11. Screw delivery

“We are not ever going to do traditional delivery. Hot food made to order that ends up costing significantly more and arrives cold or doesn’t show up at all? We don’t need to play any part in that. The cut that third-party [companies like Doordash or Grubhub] takes is massive. Plus, your ability to connect with your customers is beholden to this business that has no interest in hospitality.”

12. Have fun

“With this new location in the Mission, we’re able to do pasta-making classes. We’ll probably host two or so a week. We’ve found there’s a demand for them, so we build the dining room to accommodate this. Plus, classes are just so damn fun.”

The Mission location for Pasta Supply Co is open now for retail. Dinner service launches June 18.
📍Pasta Supply Co, 3233 22nd St, Mission District; 236 Clement St, Inner Richmond

Sara Deseran can be reached at