Joshua Grim, the 37-year-old CEO of the soon-to-launch Gusto Italian Grill, sees an opportunity for an Italian fast casual concept to catch on—much like Chipotle has for Mexican food and Cava Grill has for Greek.
“I felt there was something missing from the Italian point of view and it’s a flavor that Americans across the country love,” Grim said.
Like those other restaurants, Gusto will offer a build-your-own model. Customers can choose from a pasta bowl, Italian flatbread or salad and top those items with a choice of protein—such as meatballs, grilled steak, marinated chicken or slow cooked Italian pork called Porcetta. Then guests can add house-made Italian sauces and their choice of vegetables.
“We’re trying to make something that’s fast, tastes great and is healthy,” Grim said. “We want you to be able to feed your family on a regular basis at a price point you can come back to frequently and not think twice about.”
He said prices will range from around $6 to $8 for the primary menu items. The restaurant will also serve gelato pops and bread sticks filled with pepperoni and cheese.
Grim says the pasta is imported from Italy, while most of the vegetables and meats are sourced from regional farms, including his family's 300-acre family farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where he grew up.
“We just planted 1,000 roma tomatoes,” Grim said. He added that his family has strong relationships with farmers in that area, which he’ll use to source other ingredients. “My family has been farming for hundreds of years [in Gettysburg].” He said growing up he helped his parents raise cattle, corn, soybeans and vegetables on the farm.
In May, Grim moved from the New York City area to Chevy Chase with his wife and newborn son. He quit his job as a Wall Street investment banker to focus on setting up Gusto. He said he chose this area because he felt it would be a good place to raise his family.
His partner in the business, Ben Protheroe, has more than 15 years experience working in the fast casual restaurant industry and will be running the day-to-day operations.
The restaurant plans to open two new locations over the next three months.
The Bethesda location, which will fill the former Kraze Burger spot at Elm Street and Woodmont Avenue near Bethesda Row is expected to open in late September, according to Grim. Then in October, the Silver Spring restaurant at 8512 Fenton St is scheduled to open across from the Whole Foods Market.
The interior of the restaurants will feature a large “tavola”, which is basically a 12-person communal table. Grim says the table will serve as a way to welcome people to the restaurant as well as a way for strangers to meet.
He described the interior design as “urban Italian farmhouse.” The Bethesda location will have Venetian-style double doors that open onto a brick patio and allow for al fresco dining. The Silver Spring location will also have a patio. Both restaurants will seat about 40 people inside and around 20 outside.
“I think this is a big opportunity for a fast casual brand,” Grim said. “It’s been a lot of work, it’s been a lot of stress, but it’s a lot of fun too.”
Gusto's Operating Partner Ben Protheroe at a pasta-making facility in Italy. (photo provided)