Co-founder Alberto Cartasegna speaks to MCA about the launching the sustainable pasta restaurant concept in London and beyond 

For miscusi co-founder and CEO Alberto Cartasegna, his goal is to bring the Mediterranean lifestyle to the world – and to do it with pasta.

Yet one of the major inspirations for the concept had nothing to do with the Mediterranean. Cartasegna was inspired by Vapiano – a casual dining pasta chain founded by a group of Germans.

“Food is part of our DNA as Italians, but we were never able to export it in the best possible way,” he says. “Why can’t we as Italians build and scale such a brand and bring it to the world?”

Alberto Cartasegna

Good carbs only

Five years after miscusi’s first opening in 2017, it is Italy’s biggest pasta chain, with 15 stores across seven Italian cities. The menu is 60% plant-based, featuring seven flours, seasonal ingredients, and vegan and gluten-free options.

The focus might be on sustainability as it’s interpreted in 2022, but the certified B-Corp brand stays true to Mediterranean touchpoints of freshness, quality, and carbs.

As a Milan native, Cartasegna grew up on a Mediterranean diet, but it wasn’t until he realised its heritage that he decided to create a concept around it.

“The cuisine is a few simple ingredients; it partly comes from poverty,” he says. “The base of the pyramid is carbs, but it’s mainly plant-based.”

He prides himself on knowing exactly where each of these ingredients come from. Miscusi works direct with farmer and Cartasegna is determined to keep obtaining some of his ingredients from Italy despite the relative difficulty of sourcing and pricing. The rest are locally sourced.

“We overpay the farmers because we want them to invest in their soil. We respect the ingredients.

“We can blame plastic and cars, but what we eat has an impact on our health and the health of our planet – which is ultimately the same thing.”


Alongside sustainability, affordability is key. With pasta dishes starting at £9.50, Cartasegna is keen to offer a value-based proposition and democratise access to quality ingredients.

“The markup is just good enough. You would end up spending more or less the same if you went to a grocery shop and cooked with the ingredients we cook with.”

Finally, authenticity is the last component. The menu is the same in Italy and the UK, with a notable variety of Campari and Aperol cocktails. Cartesegna has astutely observed that “you guys drink more” and prioritised his drinks menu accordingly.

“We’re never going to add cream to carbonara. We’re never going to compromise.”

First stop: London

Miscusi opened its first international site in The Yards, Covent Garden late last year, entering a competitive and expensive market. 

This boldness of approach makes more sense when considering that the first six miscusi restaurants opened in Milan in the span of two years, with the brand leaving its mark on the rest of Italy soon after.

“We saw a window of opportunity in London,” he says. “We’re entering for the long run. We’re entering to stay.”

The London move came on the heels of a €20m investment from venture capital funds Milano Investment Partners, which has also invested in Hawaiian-inspired chain Poké House, and Kitchen Fund, the group behind American salad concept SweetGreen. The funding round was a far cry from the family friends who helped fund the first miscusi opening in Milan.

Taking advantage of low rents last year, miscusi will open its second London site in Islington in May. Cartasegna’s plan is to focus on London and “learn from these two sites” while adapting to a new market and optimising his strategy in response.

“We wanted to learn first from Berlin or Madrid,” he says, revealing the initial strategy to expand to other European cities before London. However, many European countries had stricter and longer-running lockdown restrictions than England did, which – when coupled with favourable real estate conditions – made London a no-brainer.

“The incumbents failed, which made room for new people like us,” Cartasegna notes, pointing to the 2019 collapse of Jamie’s Italian.


For his own Italian concept, the décor has a Milanese feel with a nod to its London location. Tables feature the red-and-white napkins reminiscent of local Italian ristorantes, but with succulents next to them. The music is a mix of English and Italian. The two-storey indoor space is expansive and combines smaller tables that cater to Londoners looking for a new space to work from, alongside perhaps more Italian features such as long tables for big families and a terrace for al fresco dining.

The service similarly blends convenience with a human touch. Menus can be digitally accessed via QR codes, with the option to tap and pay online. However, customers order through a friendly group of Italian servers, who are warm, attentive, and knowledgeable about the menu.

From Milan to London and beyond

With a presence in many of Italy’s major cities, miscusi is shifting its focus by expanding to smaller Italian cities at the same time as more of London’s neighbourhoods. Cartasegna nevertheless feels the brand’s formative years in Milan were instrumental in giving him the confidence to export miscusi.

“It was that Italian endorsement or validation that what I was doing was appreciated by Italians.”

Cartasegna reports a clientele of workers, students, families, and bankers, with his favourites being the nonnas who frequent the restaurants on Sunday afternoons. The brand offers snappy service and is affordable, but uses high quality ingredients, which is the reason he believes it works both in Italy and in London.

“If you go to Bancone, you spend twice more. With fine dining, it’s curated and cooked in front of you,” he says. “With Coco di Mama, it’s takeaway-based and it’s fast, but there’s no real Italian heritage.”

For Cartasegna, miscusi stands out from other Italian offerings in a fiercely competitive market because it combines convenience with quality.

As he experiments with different store formats, he notes that even Coco di Mama might be an inspiration for “a different version of miscusi” if the brand shifted its focus to delivery in the future. A delivery-oriented offering may not work in Italian food culture, but in the UK, Cartasegna sees an opportunity for fast expansion.

“To go everywhere is the ambition. As soon as we know the pandemic is over and we’re not entering World War III, we’ll enter other markets.”

Miscusi at home – and at school

The pandemic may have brought with it lower rents, but with a premise based on the Mediterranean way of life, miscusi struggled to hold on to its brand identity during lockdown.

The brand began delivering in Italy but still doesn’t deliver in London, instead focusing on miscusi at Home. The concept offers some of the brand’s pastas, sauces, and salsas to cook at home, with part of its Covent Garden location devoted to the selection.

Another new initiative was miscusi College, a pandemic-era digital space comprised of a cookbook, a film forum, and other resources to offer staff development opportunities.

Like many operators, miscusi took the opportunity to not only play with new concepts but to have a closer look at their roots.

“We were growing very fast, so we made a lot of mistakes,” Cartasegna says. “We fixed errors, we went back to the roots and to who we are.”

Staff happiness before product quality

“The most common comment from some of our customers – before product quality – is how happy our staff are.”

Cartasegna’s first restaurant job was as an 18-year-old kitchen assistant at Oliveto Pizzeria in Belgravia. The idea is to offer young Italians the same opportunity to explore and experience London in the same way he did.

Initiatives like miscusi College – introduced in 2020 – have gone a long way in helping the brand mitigate Brexit- and pandemic-induced staffing shortages. The other ingredient, put simply, is sponsoring visas, although Cartasegna maintains the former is more important.

“There’s no secret recipe,” he adds. “The money helps in the short term, but our focus is on values. Investing in people is what matters in the long run.”