Update your “Restaurants We Miss” listicles. Porano Pasta, the shuttered fast-casual restaurant from acclaimed chef Gerard Craft, will return next year at a new location in Des Peres.
What’s more, Craft’s Niche Food Group plans to open a total of three Porano locations in the coming years.
Craft announced Porano’s rebirth during a podcast interview with Companion Baking Co. founder Josh Allen. Craft has not yet revealed the exact address in Des Peres.
Craft told the Post-Dispatch that Porano is the concept that people most frequently ask him to bring back.
“Quite frankly, it’s the one that I crave the most,” he said.
The original Porano opened in January 2016 at 634 Washington Avenue downtown. Customers built their own pasta dishes, grain bowls or salads from a selection of proteins, sauces and toppings. The menu later expanded to include Detroit-style pizza.
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Porano closed at the end of July 2018. Craft said discussions about its return began in earnest at the start of the pandemic. The reboot has benefitted from Niche Food Group’s growing experience with fast-casual dining, which now includes the BrassWELL burger stand at the Rockwell Beer Co. tasting room as well as operations at the Food Hall at City Foundry and CityPark.
The original Porano, Craft said, “was a profitable concept, even downtown — not, you know, vastly (profitable) — so we knew there was definitely room to grow with that if we understood more” about fast-casual dining.
The new Porano in Des Peres will feature a similar menu of customizable pastas, grain bowls and salads alongside Detroit-style pizza. Changes aim to improve the restaurant’s efficiency and convenience.
“I mean, when we opened up (the original Porano), we were breaking down whole hogs in there,” Craft said. “That alone should have just disqualified me from operating a fast-casual restaurant at all.”
The original location also suffered from a lack of parking, Craft added, while the new location in Des Peres features ample parking and is easily accessible.
Porano’s return continues a busy spell for Niche Food Group. In addition to the opening of CityPark, where Craft plays the role of St. Louis City SC’s “flavor officer,” he recently announced the opening of a new restaurant, Expat BBQ, slated to open this fall at City Foundry.