WHEN chef Ashley Marcantelli established food home delivery service Knockin' Gnocchi in 2020, the idea was to see it out until the end of COVID-19 restrictions.
One year later, the business is still thriving.
Not only is Knockin' Gnocchi fulfilling orders every week, but the popularity of his homemade gnocchi has led to the launch of a regular pop-up restaurant at Dixon Park Surf Life Saving Club.
After last month's sold-out event, Knockin' Gnocchi returns to the beachfront venue for two nights on June 24 and 25 (the second night is part of a fundraiser comedy night featuring comedian Darren Sanders).
As the business has grown, so has the menu at the pop-up events. Marcantelli invested in two pizza ovens to offer Italian-style pizzas made on 48-hour fermented dough (supplied by Declan Smyczynski of the Oriental Hotel) alongside the gnocchi dishes and snacks.
For Marcantelli, who has an Italian background and trained as a chef under the likes of Lesley Taylor, the menu is a modern take on traditional fare from Italy.
"I love food and culture. My heritage is Italian so I'm trying to get back to those roots," Marcantelli says. "Food has always been a big part of our family and I have always had a soft spot for Italian cooking. It's always been about putting time into the sauce and the gnocchi.
"A lot of love and effort goes into everything we do. We smoke our peppers on black wattle and hickory, and our tomatoes, all day, so we don't take shortcuts on anything.
"I have worked with Lesley Taylor, I did my apprenticeship with her, so I have worked with great chefs that were always pretty strict on cooking and showing me not to cut corners, how to make proper sauces, so it's something that I just carried on."
The menu this month includes oven-roasted tomato and ricotta bruschetta, garlic and herb flatbread, and marinated olives for entrees, along with beef cheek ragu gnocchi with smoked peppers and parmesan, and gnocchi with pumpkin cream, crisped kale, and pepitas, while the two pizzas are the popular Quattro Formaggi with truffle and honey, and forest mushroom with prosciutto and mozzarella.
Marcantelli held the first pop-up event last year at Mockingbird Cafe on Beaumont Street (where he also works full-time as a chef) which catered for 70. At the last event, they had 220 through the doors.
"The idea is we would like to be out on our own next year, so we would like to find a small, permanent space where we can run takeaways from or, who knows, maybe even have a little seated restaurant," he says.
"We are just seeing where it takes us. Obviously, we have found a bit of a market for what we do."
The pop-up events include live music, and drinks are available at the bar at club prices. The ocean views are the cherry on top.
It was during lockdown last year that Marcantelli and his fiancee, Laura, came up with the concept for Knockin' Gnocchi.
"At the time, I was the head chef at the Criterion Hotel in Carrington," he says.
"I resigned from that position because I wanted a bit more time, more nights off, and then COVID happened, so that's when I started Knockin' Gnocchi."
Marcantelli decided to tap into the home delivery market by making restaurant-quality homemade gnocchi, frozen fresh and delivered to your door.
He promoted the business on social media and, to his surprise, received almost 40 orders on the first night.
His brother Liam helps out at the events as does Laura, who is still a big part of the business.
"She is my right-hand, really. She works full-time as a nurse at the John Hunter Hospital but she's back-of-house, front-of-house, she's been everything," he says.
"She has taken on rolling the gnocchi as well, which has been a huge help. She helps with deliveries and the events. After an event, I'm back at work and if she has a day off, she's back there packing up. She has been a huge part of this."
Knockin' Gnocchi's weekly menu is released every Monday and is available by messaging 0428 858 780 or via Instagram @knockin_gnocchi.
He delivers to Newcastle, Maitland, Fletcher and Toronto, and most places in-between, from Wednesday to Friday.
Bookings for the pop-up at Dixon Park Surf Life Saving Club can be made via 0428 858 780.
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