A talented Houston chef is getting a fresh start in the Energy Corridor. Sidney Degaine, who sold his French restaurant Cafe Azur in January, will open the doors to his next restaurant on Monday, July 9.
However, instead of opening another French restaurant, Degaine has developed a fast casual Italian concept called Mona Fresh Italian Food. As the name implies, Mona will serve freshly made pasta, piadina (sandwiches), and salads that will be available with a wide range of sauces, proteins, and toppings. Although Cafe Azur earned some acclaim, including a CultureMap Tastemaker Awards Best New Restaurant nomination, Degaine tells CultureMap that a French chef serving Italian food isn't as strange as it sounds.
“The idea to do Italian fast casual was way before Cafe Azur. It’s something we’ve been thinking since when we lived in Brazil,” Degaine says. “I’m from Nice on the border of Italy. Pasta is something I love to do. At Cafe Azur, people loved the pastas we were doing.”
Degaine says he chose the location in Katy, because he’s heard good things about the growing suburb. Also, converting the former Verts location into Mona cost less money than building from scratch. The new opportunity did come with one small downside.
“All the friends we made are inside the loop, they say, ‘we love you, but we’re not going to come to Katy,’” Degaine says. “We’re going to have to make new friends from Katy.”
Whether traveling from near or far, Mona’s ordering process has been designed to be very straightforward. Diners enter the line and decide whether they’re in the food for pasta, a sandwich, or a salad. Choose five add-on ingredients from the 18 options; they include fresh vegetables as well as prepared items like roasted eggplant and roasted zucchini. Then, pick a sauce from choices like alfredo, pomodoro, or a seasonal ragu that will be brisket at opening will likely also include lamb shoulder and other proteins. Add an optional protein like a giant housemade meatball, Italian sausage, or Degaine’s signature perfect egg. Season to taste with freshly cracked black pepper, spicy red pepper, fresh grated parmesan, and more. People may even cut their own micro basil.
Pastas are sauteed with the vegetables and sauce right in front of the customer. Since all of the ingredients are fresh, they cook in about 30 seconds. Best of all, it’s very affordable. Basic pastas start at $8 and proteins are only $3 or $3.50
“We want to be, not fast food, but [food that's fast] at a good price,” Degaine says. “We put money into the decoration. We want it to be a nice restaurant.”
Specifically Degaine wants Mona to be a nice restaurant that could grow into multiple locations. Once he gets everything dialed in, he intends to start looking for additional spaces.
“If it works, we’re looking for spots inside the loop, Memorial City, anywhere else,” Degaine says. “If it’s working, we’re ready to open more.”
Mona Fresh Italian Food; 19355 Katy Freeway, Suite 500; Monday through Friday, 10 am to 9 pm; Saturday, 10 am to 10 pm; Sunday, 10 am to 9 pm; 832-321-5294