Long before Pastabilities earned its stripes as a popular Syracuse restaurant, gourmet food merchandiser, and Food Network star, they were hitting home runs serving simple, fresh, homemade pasta; cafeteria style in downtown Syracuse.
And from those humble beginnings sprang a well of creativity and success.
Thirty-seven years later, their daughter and front-of-house manager Ryland Heagerty, reports that the oldest continually run restaurant in Syracuse has grown and stretched into something quite special.
“We’re turning 37 next week,” Heagerty says. “And it’s amazing how far Pastabilities has come since its beginnings in fast casual.”
In this week’s Q&A with Boxerbrand’s blog Recipe for Success, the front-of-house manager discusses the growth of the company throughout the restaurant and retail food market.
Q: How did Pastabilities begin?
In the early 1980s, little was happening in downtown Syracuse. We were one of a handful of restaurants and our first location was outside of Hanover Square, the most popular small neighborhood.
Two years later, we moved to Armory Square, where we are today. Just to give you an idea of how desolate this area was, even though it was only three or four blocks away from our first location, we were thrown a goodbye party by customers who figured they’d never see us again!
But there were investors who purchased buildings in the Armory Square neighborhood and beyond, who wanted to develop downtown Syracuse. And they solicited us to be the pioneers.
Q: How did the business grow?
We were very blessed. We really worked to provide exceptional customer service with everything we did, and maintain consistent quality with our products.
We’ve been flexible too, rolling out new concepts, products, menus, and craft drinks over the years.
Q: Tell me about the spicy hot tomato oil the restaurant jars and sells?
My parents took a trip to Italy in 1989 and sampled an amazing sauce at a humble restaurant they happened to walk into. It was hot, sweet, oily and rich with tomatoes. And for about five years, they worked to recreate the recipe.
They served it for years as a dipping sauce, and people went wild for it. It was so popular that started selling it cold packed. And then we began to jar and sell it in 2012.
The hot sauce has become a big part of our business. We sell it online and in supermarkets, including Wegmans, Tops markets, and Price Chopper.
Q: And then you were discovered by the Food Channel.
In 2012 we got a call from Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives asking if we’d be interested in appearing on the show. So, we closed our restaurant down for four days of filming, but before we did, we got special permission to skip over some of the key ingredients to our hot sauce.
The show has a huge following, and after our appearance, our business grew even bigger, with people coming in from out of town.
Q: And you also have a bakery!
Yes! We opened Pasta’s Daily Bread across the street in 2001 after the demand for our fresh-baked breads outgrew out baking space. We also serve soups, sandwiches, salads and pizzas.
Q: How did Pastabilities handle the carbs diet crazes?
We embraced our commitment to carbs by trying to make the best carbs there are. The fact that everything is homemade and made with love and attention to every dish made us popular, even with people who were trying to cut down on carbs. We became so good that if you were going to have a diet “cheat day” you came to us.
But, our menu and experience has grown far beyond pasta. We offer a full menu of gluten-free dishes that are very popular, and we also offer a deeper menu of fish, poultry, beef to reflect the more sophisticated tastes of today.
For example: we’ve just rolled out our new menu, which includes a green chili Alfredo with blackened shrimp on a ricotta gnocchi. Creating something new from a staple. We’re always looking to expand with fresh, new pasta ideas.
And though we still provide the cafeteria style pasta lunch, our dinner experience is a traditional sit-down down experience that people wait in line for! — Pastabilities is widely credited with playing a key role in the revitalization of the Armory Square area of Syracuse. Pastabilities uses Boxerbrand Café Style menu covers in its table presentation. Thank you!