- Seattle-based fast casual pasta chain Due Cucina raised $2.5 million to expand beyond Washington state and open three restaurants in Texas.
- The company is led by two best friends who grew up in Italy. Its CEO is a former Amazon senior project manager.
- The startup uses technology and a vertically integrated supply chain to power its business.
Scrolling through the Dué Cucina menu one evening this week, I selected paccheri noodles with white truffle oil — something you might expect at a fancy restaurant staffed by waiters in bow ties.
But 20 minutes later, I got a text notification: there was a bag with my name on it at a small eatery in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.
This approachability is part of the allure of Dué Cucina, a fast-growing fast casual restaurant serving authentic Italian cuisine with three locations in residential neighborhoods across Seattle.
The company, led by a former Amazon project manager and a nuclear science expert, just landed $2.5 million from Houston-based restaurant investment company Mac Haik Restaurant Group to open three new restaurants in Texas, its first expansion beyond Washington state.
Dué Cucina is aiming to take a bite of the $5.9 billion North American pasta industry by drawing on fast casual models from established companies like Chipotle and Bellevue, Wash-based MOD Pizza. It offers patrons ability to customize pasta shapes, sauces and toppings.
Technology also plays a key role with an online app and website for ordering. The company is among a number of restaurants placing more focus on digital orders thanks to pandemic-driven demand for takeout that continues to be strong.
Dué Cucina was founded by two best friends, Davide Macchi and Filippo Fiori. They first met in Tuscany, Italy, where they rode the bus together to high school.
In 2016, Macchi graduated with an MBA from MIT’s Sloan School of Management, interning at cloud computing giant VMWare as part of his education. After college, he became a senior project manager at Amazon, in part to help finance Dué Cucina in its early days.
Fiori graduated from Tsinghua University in China with a doctorate degree in nuclear science and technology. During his time there, he taught cooking classes and was a resident Italian chef at a well-circulated Chinese cooking show.
After committing to pursue a longtime dream of opening a restaurant, the duo entered MIT’s entrepreneur-in-residence program, which allowed them to tinker with different recipes and develop a business model. It was the first pasta business to go through the incubator.
Fiori and Macchi opened their first brick-and-mortar restaurant seven years ago in Seattle’s Capitol Hill. They chose the location because of a lack of similar concept restaurants in the region, the availability of ingredients, and the residential area.
Macchi said the company purposefully avoided being in an office-centric district. From his time at Amazon he learned that employees are often too busy to eat out or bring their own lunch. He also cited expensive rent and competition from food trucks and Amazon’s own cafeteria.
The bet to target residential geographies has proven to be fruitful. Many small businesses near Amazon’s campus in Seattle’s South Lake Union have struggled amid the pandemic with employees working from home.
Eater in 2017 wrote about the prevalence of fast-casual pasta shops, but only one of the companies mentioned in the story — Portland, Ore.-based Grassa — is still operating.
According to Macchi, the reason these restaurants failed was because they landed in two categories: highly branded fast-casual plays (Porano and Pasta Flyers), versus chef-driven shops (II Corvo).
Fast casual plays sacrificed quality in order to optimize for efficiency, branding and scale, Macchi said. Chef-driven shops made authentic dishes and were beloved in their communities but were not positioned to replicate that success in other locations, he said.
Dué Cucina has been successful because it combined both concepts, Macchi said.
- The restaurant locations make roughly $2 million in annual revenue, with an average size of 1,800 square-feet.
- Its average ticket time — the duration it takes to prepare a dish — is about 9 minutes.
- The Capitol Hill location pumps out an average of 500 pastas per day.
Macchi drew on his tech experience to develop the restaurant’s back-end systems.
The company, previously known as Dueminuti, built its own app for managers to onboard new employees, schedule working hours, and share information about recipes and cooking instructions across locations. The company also “vertically integrated” its supply chain, with the kitchen producing its own pasta, bread and sausage.
Dué Cucina’s app, which includes a loyalty rewards program, has more than 16,500 users.
The company is following in the footsteps of other fast casual restaurants that landed cash from investment firms, including MOD and Sweetgreens, which went public in 2021.
Macchi said the new locations in Texas will serve as a “proof-of-concept” for Dué Cucina’s ability to scale in new markets. If the new locations are as successful as Seattle, he said, the company will aim to raise more investment.
“In Seattle, we’re established, and people know us,” Macchi said. “We could make 20 stores, but investors wouldn’t care very much. Investors want to see: ‘Can this go outside of Seattle?’”
Dué Cucina plans to establish a joint venture with Mac Haik Restaurant Group and open 10 additional units in Texas by 2031, part of a broader goal of opening hundreds of locations nationwide.