Small Business Survivors: East Village’s Cacio e Pepe opens second location amid pandemic

cacio e pepe owners
Salvatore Corea (l) and Giusto Priola (r), owners of Cacio e Pepe.
Photos courtesy of Cacio e Pepe

Cacio e Pepe, located at 182 Second Avenue, has been an East Village staple since 2004. Named for the classic Roman dish, Salvatore Corea and Giusto Priola felt that they needed to bring a taste of this classic Italian fare to the neighborhood.

“In July of 2004, Cacio e Pepe opened after Salvatore and myself and one other partner, who is no longer with us, decided the East Village needed a new authentic and creative Italian restaurant,” recalled Priola.

The restaurant quickly garnered a lot of buzz with its authentic Italian specialties. What caught the eye of many diners and members of the media was the restaurant’s namesake: cacio e pepe. Translated to “cheese and pepper,” cacio e pepe is as simple as it sounds, a cheese-based pasta dish with black pepper and salt. Cacio e Pepe took this dish to the next level by tossing it together in a wheel of cheese served tableside.

“We were lauded in NY Magazine, Time Out New York, The New York Post, The Village Voice and many others,” said Corea. “Shortly after, I was invited to cook at the James Beard Foundation where I was the featured chef for 2 events. In 2017, New Fork City posted a video of the Cacio e Pepe which brought it newfound worldwide popularity bringing in tourists from all over the world. Insider and many others soon followed.”

Cacio e Pepe’s namesake menu item, cacio e pepe, tossed in a giant wheel of cheese.(Photo courtesy of Cacio e Pepe)

While the cacio e pepe drew many in, guests stayed for the restaurant’s variety of Roman entrees, desserts and wine. Business was booming, and there were talks of opening a second location over the years.

However, like many restaurants, Cacio e Pepe was forced to close down in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Priola and Corea immediately shut down the restaurant not just for the safety of New York City, but mainly for the safety of their employees 

“Our very first thoughts were, ‘How can we keep everyone safe, support our families and ensure our staff support their families?’” said Priola. “Everyone’s health was a priority so we closed down immediately and began a fundraiser which allowed them to get everyone enough money until we could open back up.”

Thanks to the fundraiser, Cacio e Pepe’s employees were able to stay afloat during the height of the shutdowns. When the Open Restaurants program allowed for outdoor dining in the summer of 2020, Cacio e Pepe reopened with COVID-19 restrictions at the ready.

“Cacio e Pepe reopened as soon as it was allowed to on June 22, 2020 when New York City launched its Open Restaurants program – allowing restaurants to expand onto sidewalks and parking spaces,” said Corea. “Luckily, Cacio e Pepe has a wonderful outdoor garden as well as a sidewalk cafe.”

Cacio e Pepe began to get its customer base back over the months. However, despite the pandemic Corea and Priola still had thoughts of opening a second spot in the Upper East Side.

“We have been planning and saving for a second location for a couple of years now. Salvatore lives on the Upper East Side with his wife and children and wanted to be closer to home,” said Priola. “When the place on York Avenue became available, we inquired and it all fell nicely into place.”

And fall into place it did. The second location of Cacio e Pepe recently opened its doors at 1479 York Avenue at the corner of 78th Street with the same full menu you’ll find at the East Village location, including the iconic tableside cacio e pepe. At this time, the Upper East Side location is BYOB, so guests are encouraged to bring their own wine and beer.

Priola and Corea acknowledge that opening a new location was tough to pull off, but they are excited for the challenge and owe a lot to their customers for helping make it possible to open the second Cacio e Pepe.

“Unfortunately, the pandemic makes everything a bit of a challenge – things move more slowly and there is a shortage of hospitality employees,” said Priola. “Nonetheless, the restaurant business is always risky and stressful and it’s part of what makes it exciting, too!”

“Thanks to the patronage of our loyal customers, combined with the generosity of our downtown and uptown landlords, we were able to do this during COVID,” said Corea. “We are optimistic and love what we do! We want to spread joy to as many people as possible.”

As far as the future of Cacio e Pepe, Priola and Corea are continuing to work to create an amazing experience at both locations.

“As with our downtown location, both Giusto and I hope to bring Upper East Siders a wonderful dining experience that includes classic Italian dishes and drinks with a creative twist,” said Corea.

For more information, visit cacioepepe.com.

Cacio e Pepe’s new Upper East Side location.(Photo courtesy of Cacio e Pepe)