Small crowds gather every day for a seat at Beverly Hills’ famed restaurant, Il Pastaio on the corner of Cannon and Brighton Way. Giancomino Drago, the energetic owner and chef, is its undisputed star and host, often greeting guests with air kisses or hugs as if he were welcoming them into his own home. Hailing from Galai Mamertino, a town in Sicily’s Messina region, Drago is charming and strives to have fun at work. [OR treats work a little like play]
I loved to play all day when we were kids. I never liked school. I told my parent, “I’m never going to be a dentist or an accountant,” Luca says, laughing at the memory.
His desires for la dolce vita and merry days seem to play out daily at Il Pastaio, where Drago often stops by at a table and chats with old friends and new. When Spain’s soccer team, Real Madrid, came by for some pasta, the ebullient owner embraced the team and posed for photos.
It’s clear the packed room is his favorite playground. Drago exchanges quick one-liner in Italian with his staff and waves to friends, who can be seen sending him air kisses from across the room. What he is selling daily is not so much a meal, but an atmosphere of pleasure and indulgence in the good life, laughter and “great Italian meals with history.”
“I respect my guests and I listen to what they want,” Drago says, referring to the newly added gluten-free and wheat pasta.
“If they like a special dish but we don’t have it on the menu, we’ll make it to please them,” he says, waiving hello to a guest. “I want everyone to enjoy and feel happy when they come here.”
Through the afternoon, Drago moves about the room and makes everyone smile. In one moment, he shares friendly banter with two stylish young women at the bar; in the next, he embraces a friend who is about to depart. Adding to the vibrant scene are a dozen fast-moving and cheerful waiters who weave seamlessly between the busy tables. The atmosphere is friendly, informal, and often noisy with diners seated close to one another. The house made pasta is delicious and reasonable with most prices falling between $16.95 to $21.50.
As the youngest of eight children from the small town of Galati Mamertino in Sicily’s Messina region, Drago grew up helping his mother and older siblings make their meals fresh daily. In his teens, Drago got his first job at a local restaurant and later enrolled in culinary school. At age 15, he visited his older brother, Celistino, a restauranteur in Beverly Hills, and never looked back. Drago decided to open a small eatery called Il Pastaio in December 1993. Two decades later, it has become one of Beverly Hill’s most popular restaurants.
“When we first opened on Canon Drive, by nine o’clock at night the streets were empty,” says Drago. “Now, it’s busy past midnight!”
Il Pastaio’s popularity also brought a new change with an added private dining area called “The Olive Room” which seats 30 guests and features a wine room with fourteen hundred bottles of wine and spirits.