Though Savino’s Quality Pasta has lowered its roll gate for shopping, the night is just getting started. In between shelves lined with dried Italian goods and refrigerators packed with pappardelle and ravioli, containers of vodka sauce, and drinks like Manhattan Special espresso soda, a folding table is dressed with a red gingham cloth, ready for dinner.
Savino’s Quality Pasta, located at 111 Conselyea Street, near Manhattan Avenue, first opened in 2003 and has been a neighborhood staple ever since. Operated by Cono Savino, the building used to house his family’s garment business, but after fabric manufacturing moved abroad, he decided to convert the space with his parents, Frank and Josephine — immigrants by way of Salerno — into an Italian market, specializing in handmade pasta, some of which he wholesales to restaurants around town.
Back in the 2008 recession and then again during COVID, independent shops and restaurants had to get creative to survive. Such is the case at this moment of rising food costs and inflation (and for Savino, harder to source Italian products). Savino’s Quality Pasta, one of a handful of remaining old-school Italian spots in Williamsburg, is trying something new: an after-hours pasta class and dinner party. The idea exists elsewhere in similar formats, but the organic hosting style is wholly his own.
The dinner parties are a collaboration with Dasha Schwartz, at the time, a neighborhood regular, who at one point, was interested in throwing her birthday at the shop. From that event, she encouraged Savino to host events regularly, which she helps market and book. What started as just dinners for friends of friends, has expanded into experiences that strangers have taken an interest in reserving. Since February 2023, 20 dinners have been held at the shop, sometimes twice a week.
The night starts off with antipasti — meat, cheese, and olives — while guests are invited to the back of the kitchen where he teaches a hands-on “no frills,” course on pasta-making. It begins with a disclaimer in the form of Savino apologizing that this isn’t for the buttoned-up or the easily offended — but rather the kind of casual experience where curse words might (will) flow freely.
Despite his love of playful banter, Savino says hosting hasn’t come naturally to him. “I was so nervous before the first class I smoked an entire pack of cigarettes,” he says. “I was afraid to say something wrong… I have no filter.”
On a recent visit, Savino taught attendees about the differences in flour, and how to spot good quality pasta in the supermarket. He helped the group feed the pasta through a machine, where they selected what shape of pasta they’d eat. Then, Savino’s team took the pasta to the back and cooked it in the sauce of choice (vodka, marinara, pesto — all made in-house). Dinner costs $70 per person, and BYOB is encouraged. Plus, attendees get to take home a goodie bag with fresh pasta.
“You spend so much money going to dinner in New York and have to make a reservation and all of that — this is so much cheaper, and more intimate than anything else,” says Schwartz.
Schwartz, who is a professional ballet dancer, and has appeared on Broadway, says while she loves the dinner party event production, it isn’t something she’s necessarily trying to make into a second job — it’s a way to help bring more attention to Savino’s store and hopefully convert them to “become regulars themselves.” Currently, bookings (the minimum is parties of six) can be made via her Instagram or an online form, but says she’s working on helping run the Savino’s Quality Pasta shop account, to make the reservation process smoother.
Though the interactive class is an element of the dinner’s appeal, the unusual location that guests get to themselves is especially a draw for birthdays and other celebratory functions. “It’s so much more fun than a typical pregame spot,” says attendee Hannah Conway. (Schwartz says she’s received booking requests already for this October.)
For Savino, hosting the next generation in his shop is “bittersweet” given how much the neighborhood has changed in his two decades of business. “I’m very old-school,” he says. But it’s been really rewarding sharing the process of how he makes his pasta.
Attendee Alexandria Scoffell acknowledged her role as an expat in New York: “In a weirdly selfish way, it’s so nice to connect with a member of the community who’s been here for so long, to learn their story, understand their hardships, and want to support.”
Savino is open about how hard the past few years were and continue to be for his business (neither of his daughters is itching to someday take over, pursuing careers outside the pasta shop.) In 2021, Grub Street reported that he had experimented with adding French products, which have since been scrapped. But he continues to keep things moving with the times and says he will cater to what today’s Williamsburg might be looking for — all while keeping a taste for the classics.