Entertaining at home has very much become the dining trend of the year — but for many, donning the chef’s hat has been more out of necessity than choice. While venues across the country have welcomed diners back with open arms (sub Melbourne), the same customers are now accustomed to going to restaurants as well as curating meals using tip-top produce from the industry’s finest. Hence, a new opportunity has arisen.

The team behind Sydney restaurants Ragazzi, Dear Sainte Éloise and Love, Tilly Devine lasered in on a gap in the market for a venue that walks the line between a produce hub, bar, deli, bakery, development space … the list goes on.

Chef Scott McComas-Williams and sommelier Matt Swieboda talk to Hospitality about their newest venture, Fabbrica — a concept that’s very much a product of our new world.

Italian pasta bar Ragazzi opened its doors in late 2019, with Scott McComas-Williams heading up the venue as executive chef. McComas-Williams is a firm believer every pasta deserves its own sauce, and Ragazzi revolves around this notion.

Like restaurants across the country, Ragazzi closed when dining in was no longer permitted, but it wasn’t long before the team came up with an alternative — pasta packs.

“We had to shut the restaurant and we were focusing all our time on making fresh pasta and sauces,” says the chef and co-owner. “We realised it could be done well and we had a good product people were keen on. It was cool because you got a free hit at trying something out while we were closed. It sparked the confidence we could actually launch this as a separate venture.”

The success of Ragazzi’s fresh pasta and sauce combos green-lit Fabbrica, but the concept had been floated pre-COVID-19. “It was an idea we had spoken about before the viral outbreak, but once we had to shut the restaurants, we started exploring different business models we could work towards,” says Matt Swieboda, sommelier and co-owner. 

Fabbrica has recently opened its doors on King Street in Sydney’s CBD, and it’s got a lot going for it. Fresh pasta is sold by the gram, ragus and sauces abound and there’s plenty of wine, anchovies, oils, cured meats and cheeses to go around. But they share a common link — they’re all ingredients you need to make a cracking pasta dish.

“Everybody is entertaining a lot more in their homes than they were historically,” says Swieboda. “Everyone wants to create food that’s as good as what they’re enjoying in restaurants. We’re [giving] them an opportunity to do that.”

But Fabbrica isn’t just a ‘grocery’ hub. The venue also has a bar, small dining space and a large open kitchen. In other words, it has universal appeal to both customers and the team using the space. “We have the pasta making happening in the background, which is a more immersive experience for the customers, and the front of the shop is retail,” says Swieboda. “The guys are also breaking down whole pigs and goats and people can watch.”

The team considered hiring out a commercial kitchen in the middle of nowhere, but settled on a location in the heart of the city due to its proximity to the group’s sister venues. Chefs from Ragazzi, Dear Sainte Éloise and Love, Tilly Devine are all able to use the space for production and the development of new dishes. “You can’t swing a golf club in Ragazzi’s kitchen, so it’s nice to have a space where we can invest money into some bigger kit like a combi oven and big mixers for doughs, breads and pastries,” says McComas-Williams.

Swieboda says it’s been a game-changer, not only in terms of creativity, but productivity. “It’s going to help us achieve things at our other venues we weren’t able to do,” he says. “For instance, we can bring in a pig and use the belly for porchetta sandwiches at Fabbrica, we can cure it into guanciale and the loin can go to Dear Sainte Éloise for a dish. We can create stocks for the entire group of restaurants and run it around to everybody. We should be able to realise a more sophisticated cuisine at the other restaurants because of this.”

While COVID has thrown a spanner in the works for many restaurateurs, opening a venue during a pandemic has proven to be a ripe opportunity for the right concepts. Landlords are willing to negotiate for reliable tenants, tradies are looking for work and customers are relishing the chance to support businesses during what has been an incredibly challenging year. Launching a new venue is always a risk, but it’s been one worth taking for the Fabbrica team.

“It’s difficult for people to forecast what’s going to happen in the world at the moment,” says Swieboda. “But for those who are adventurous, the current climate offers a lot of opportunity. Landlords are keen to get operators in and that market is really good for operators. There have been a lot of changes to the way people use the city and conduct their day-to-day lives, but it could be a really interesting time for people who might have an idea of how those changes might result in business opportunities. It’s causing a lot of people to assess the hospitality business and how it will work if the situation lingers for much longer. It’s an interesting time to diversify the way people run their businesses.”

Things are coming up roses for the group, with Ragazzi’s pasta packs set to be sold by a number of retailers and the acquisition of some new staff — which has actually been a breeze for once. “Staffing has always been the biggest issue, but it’s been one of the less-stressful tasks at the moment,” says McComas-Williams.

While Fabbrica will of course be connected to Ragazzi, the venue is going to march to its own beat. “We decided to do something different and let it have some more independence,” says Swieboda. And there’s nothing better than a concept that stands on its own two feet — especially when there’s fresh pasta and cured meats involved. 

Image credits: Nikki To