Gabriel Pascuzzi didn’t start out with the goal of owning a sandwich shop; when he was younger, he was prepared to go all in with fine dining. At the age of eighteen he wrote himself a contract: he would work for the best chefs, no matter what it paid, no matter what his relationships were, no matter the hours, until he was 26. And he did just that, working at high-end dining restaurants in New York City until he moved back to Portland, his hometown, in 2012 at the age of 27.
After spending some time working as the chef at the Whiskey Library, launching a pop-up dinner series called PN26, and staging at Copenhagen’s Noma, he opened up Stacked Sandwiches in 2016. As to the dramatic move from fine dining to a counter-service deli, he cites a much needed lifestyle change. “Every young chef wants to win a Michelin star, but then you watch Chef’s Table, and you realize these people eat and breathe their jobs. I love my job, but I also love my friends and family and doing things outside of work.”
Still, Pascuzzi didn’t lose any of his culinary focus when switching over to a more casual setting. Like many Portland restaurants, Stacked draws from the bounty of the surrounding area, focusing on seasonality, even with its meats, which are roasted, grilled, brined, and smoked in house. “We’re taking lamb off the menu until the spring and summer. It’s just better at that time of year,” says Pascuzzi.
He also chalks his win of Chef of the Year to his team, “Me getting Chef of the Year is as much a validation of their hard work as it is my own,” he says of his staff, “It’s a sum of all the parts.”
Stacked’s first year wasn’t without its speed bumps, though. About six to seven months in, the restaurant had 100% staff turnover over a few weeks time. Pascuzzi dealt with it one person at a time. He also listened to feedback, like with a breakfast sandwich that was criticized by Portland Monthly for being a “textural bust” — he addressed this with the addition of a fried sous-vide hash brown for additional crunch.
When asked the unavoidable-but-annoying question of “what’s next?”, Pascuzzi says he wants to get back to launching PN26 dinners in the Stacked space, as well as some collaboration dinners with his favorite chefs in town. “I have a habit of interjecting myself into chef’s lives when I go in to their restaurants and introduce myself,” he says. “Hopefully they’ll want to do a dinner or work with me, and hopefully being chef of the year will help with that.”