Fort Worth's Clay Pigeon Builds a Restaurant Family
It’s easy to compare opening a second restaurant to having a second child. Having the first is one thing. But even though you think you have things down pat, going from one to two successfully takes even more planning, hard work, and patience.
In anticipation of opening his second concept, Piattello Italian Kitchen, Chef Paslay says, “Going from one to two is a big jump. It takes nine months of planning and developing, and then when you open a new restaurant, it’s really intense for the first three months and starts to slow down closer to a year in.” Sounds an awful lot like birthing a baby.
Paslay credits his strong team at Clay Pigeon with giving him the flexibility to be able to take the time to develop and open another restaurant, an opportunity that came about rather fortuitously, when a real estate developer and frequent customer began looking for a restaurateur to open at his new property. Conveniently, the developer approached Chef Paslay at a time when he was considering expanding his business.
“Any time you decide to grow a business, it’s a reflection of good employees,” Paslay says. “If you have a quality team in place, it frees you up as an entrepreneur to explore new things. I have an amazing team at Clay Pigeon, so it allowed me to be able to take the time to see what our town needed, what’s missing, and to determine if we could realistically provide that.”
When he opened the 115-seat Clay Pigeon in December 2013, it quickly became a destination restaurant in an industrial area that is now becoming revitalized. At Clay Pigeon, Chef Paslay has become known for his mussels with bacon, fennel, leeks, white wine, and sourdough, and his wood-roasted bone marrow with cured fennel, parsley, and radish.
The restaurant’s name came about because of his affinity for shotgun shooting, a sport that uses clay discs in practice. Combine that with the happenstance that many of the men in Paslay’s family are named Clay, and the name was practically a given.
Given his commitment to house-made fare, it’s no surprise he plans to continue the scratch-made tradition at the Italian-inspired Piatello. “Italian cuisine lends itself to homemade preparations like homemade pizza and pasta dough, which is in my style of cooking,” he says. “With Italian, it’s easy to have really good food but in a more simple, casual way.”
Tucked in a new residential and retail development in Fort Worth called Waterside, Piattello has a “more family-friendly, casual-eating experience” compared to the finer-dining Clay Pigeon, Paslay says. (Coincidentally, Piattello, which translates to “little plate,” is what Italians call the clay pigeons used for shooting practice in Italy.) A more casual format was also preferential and intentional from an operational standpoint: It will help Paslay balance the labor intensity of his work at Clay Pigeon.
A large wood-burning oven serves as the focal point for the new restaurant and as the primary cooking medium for the pizza and al forno dishes. Aside from the variety of housemade pastas and pizza, there will be a handful of seafood dishes and classics like lasagna that will be presented on different days to keep things fresh for regulars. In the morning, the bar at Piattello will transform into a coffee bar with pastries and grab-and-go breakfast items to accommodate onsite residents and others on their way to work.
One of the most important lessons Paslay says he learned from his first restaurant was how to set up systems that would eventually guide and help manage the second restaurant. “In the long-term, having good systems in place saves you a lot of time, effort, and money,” he says, referring to standard operating procedures like accounting, payroll, and service training. “Over the years, we’ve been able to fine-tune those systems, which has helped us start off on the right foot in developing our second concept.”
Perhaps the main pitfall of operating two concepts is the can’t-be-everywhere, stretched-too-thin syndrome that can cause the first—or even the second —concept to become neglected. But, as with children, it takes a village. As confident as he is in his original team at Clay Pigeon, Paslay is also confident in the team he has assembled for round two. On the cusp of opening Piatello, Paslay is already contemplating additional concepts, and yes, he says there will definitely be more to come.