Is This Vegan Pasta Chain Filling UK’s Olive Garden Void?

This month, pasta-loving Brits got a new option to sink their teeth into with the opening of Pastan in Bristol. The concept is all about vegan takes on traditional pasta dishes served table-side or purchased through its online shop that ships its pasta and sauces across mainland United Kingdom.

On the menu, Pastan serves fresh pasta dishes such as Smooth Operator (pumpkin and sage stuffed tortellini dressed in sage butter with deep fried sage leaves); Comfort You (a vegan mac and cheese topped with crispy onions and toasted with add-ons such as plant-based bacon and lardons or truffle oil); and Caspian Sea (a tagliolini dish with activated charcoal and a dill hollandaise topped with vegan shrimp).

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Classic dishes get the vegan treatment here, as well, including carbonara, Cacio e Pepe, and gnocchi (which Pastan serves deep-fried and loaded with a choice of three sauces). For dessert, the chain offers homemade tiramisu, Speculoos mini donut balls, and affogato.

Pastan first tested the waters in Bristol with a pop-up in 2021 that proved successful, ushering in the new brick-and-mortar locations. “It demonstrated to us there is definitely an appetite for plant-based pasta options,” Sophie Weir, Pastan Brand Manager, told local outlet Bristol Live.

UK’s vegan ‘Olive Garden’?

Popular pasta chain Olive Garden does not operate locations in the United Kingdom, where it might be missing out on an opportunity that Pastan is capitalizing on. Founded by hospitality industry veterans Dean Fawcett and Jerome Ibanez-Fawcett, the chain spent the last few years testing the demand for a vegan pasta concept—and its learnings show that Brits are hungry for this type of cuisine.

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Pastan first launched as a pop-up in April 2021 at Neal’s Yard in Covent Garden when restaurants were just emerging from pandemic closures in London. Soon after in the summer of 2021, Pastan tested its concept in Bristol and then held a final pop-up in London’s Notting Hill neighborhood that fall.

The new Pastan location in Bristol expands the chain to three locations with two other brick-and-mortar locations now operating in London and Manchester.

“It’s an exciting city, a really vibrant city, one that we really want to put our mark on,” Weir said. “We noticed for the pop-up we had that Bristol has an amazing vegan and plant-based community and people are open to trying new vegan options.”

In addition to Pastan, a very different chain, Burger King, also identified Bristol as a good location for its own plant-based popup last year, where it tested vegan burgers made with La Vie’s plant-based bacon—items that Burger King rolled out widely across the UK earlier this month.

Vegan at Olive Garden and other plant-based pasta bilities

At the actual Olive Garden, the biggest draw is its breadsticks—which happen to be vegan. The rest of the menu offers plant-based opportunities with a few modifications, especially when you build-your-own pasta dishes.

While Olive Garden offers some choice, dedicated vegan pasta concepts are popping up nationwide. Acclaimed vegan chef Matthew Kenney owns a slew of restaurants worldwide, including SESTINA, a concept that celebrates all things pasta. Kenney opened the first SESTINA in New York City in 2020 where the focal point was a 1,000-square-foot enclosed pasta bar.

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While the NYC location has closed, Kenney expanded the pasta bar concept to Culver City, CA, where patrons can choose from a variety of expertly crafted dishes such as Radiatori Smokey Sugo (pasta in braised tomato sauce with wine and smoked tempeh); Parpadelle (with mushroom ragout); and Bucatini with Puttanesca (​​with features shallots, capers, a light Pomodoro sauce, olives, and lemon preserve).

And another new concept, Rooted Vegan Cuisine Test Kitchen, just began operations in San Antonio, TX, filling a void for plant-based Italian food in the region. “I have always loved Italian food and have been shocked by the lack of options for vegan Italian cuisine in the area,” Rooted Vegan Cuisine Owner Naomi Oyegoke said in a statement. “I would often complain to friends about how there was nothing like this being offered in San Antonio, so we decided to create it ourselves.”

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The new business offers appetizers such as bruschetta, mozzarella sticks, and an antipasti platter; soups; salad; and entrées including Signature Lasagna, Spinach Manicotti, Eggplant Parmesan Linguini Alfredo, and Pappardelle Bolognese; along with a selection of desserts.

Rooted’s vegan dishes are available for takeout, delivery, and national shipping.