You might not think that a background in TV, film, and acting would serve as preparation for a career in the restaurant business, but Cynthia Ariosta would beg to differ. Owner of Saucy, Ukiah’s favorite pizzeria and pub, Cynthia claims that running a restaurant draws on the same skills used in the performing arts. “It’s theater and improv. You have to be on your toes. Between the management, staff, and customers, it’s a different cast of characters, a different audience, every day.”
And now the show is on the road.
Meet The Flying Saucy, Cynthia’s newest venture and a mobile extension of her 90-seat restaurant in downtown Ukiah, across from the Mendocino County courthouse on West Standley. The Flying Saucy captures Saucy’s bikermeets- hipster vibe, all matte black and diamond plate with flashes of orange. It’s a self-contained eatery on the go, complete with Mugnaini wood-fired pizza oven and eight taps (four for beer, four for wine). Pull up to a level spot, plug in the generator, and you can have passed hors d’oeuvres, family style meals, hot pizza and cold drinks pretty much anywhere. Not a food truck, the unit is mobile pizza for hire. Any event with hungry people (think wedding, corporate retreat, milestone birthday party, etc.) will go better with The Flying Saucy and its bag of delicious tricks.
One such trick is the Live Mozzarella Station. Cheese curd is added to a pot of boiling water, magic words are intoned over the steam, and out pops deliciously fresh and gooey warm mozzarella. Have it on its own or topped with diced tomato—but only in summer. Like the restaurant, dishes served up via The Flying Saucy are thick with locally sourced and seasonal ingredients. “I won’t serve anything that isn’t sweet and delicious,” says Cynthia, who gets her produce from Mendocino farms like Tequio Community Farm, Covelo Organics, Langdon Farm, and Yokayo Roots Farm, as well as the Food Hub and the School of Adaptive Agriculture. Even the wood that cooks the pizza is from Frank’s Firewood in Anderson Valley. “I love the wonder on people’s faces when they peek inside the oven and see that the only thing cooking the pizza is the fire,” says Cynthia.
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Cynthia grew up on Staten Island, a physician’s daughter in an Italian family that loves food. Escargot was her favorite dish as a youngster, the result of frequent fine dining excursions into New York City. Add to that a beloved grandmother who made homemade gnocchi and risotto, plus a garden out back full of fresh tomatoes, zucchini, and broccoli, and the result is a lifelong love affair with food.
While pursuing a television/film career in New York City, Cynthia worked in restaurants to make a living. When she was ready to move on from acting, it was a no-brainer to redirect her creative energies into the restaurant business.
She opened Saucy in 2012 and won the Business of the Year award from the Ukiah Chamber of Commerce that same year. She credits her capable and hard-working staff for much of the restaurant’s success. “I have an amazing team,” she says. “I couldn’t go on the road if they weren’t capable of running things without me.”
Saucy’s vibe is both playful and pared-down-industrial, with a combination of features that keeps the clientele mixed and coming back. It’s become a favorite haunt of beer lovers, offering a wide selection of esoteric, small batch brews. A flat screen TV above the bar plays sport games, and adventurous types can order beer flights like Flight Light, Flight O’Hops, and Flight O’Malts. Brewmasters from regional breweries like Dr. Jekyll’s Brewing Company, O’Meara Brothers, and Bear Republic come share their wares on special Pint Nights. To round out the drinks list, local wines are always on offer, with nine options on tap at all times from Mendocino, Lake, and Sonoma counties.
While some come for the bar, others come for the food. Cynthia loves to try new ingredients, new flavor combinations. “Hardly anyone in Ukiah knew what burrata was when I first added it to the menu. Now it’s one of the most popular items we serve.” She’s cautious not to get stuck in a rut. “I get bored fast, so I’m constantly changing things up,” she says. The Flying Saucy is her biggest change yet, and with it, she can take Saucy’s cheeky style of food and fun to an even wider audience.
When asked what she likes best about her work, Cynthia says, “People are generally happy to see you. They love going out to eat.” Yet The Flying Saucy is not just a means of indulging Cynthia’s penchant for feeding people. There are some hard realities California restaurant owners are facing. “I spend a premium on ingredients, and people will only pay so much for pizza,” Cynthia says. Yet with political pressure mounting for a hike in minimum wage, payroll costs threaten to increase to a point where she can’t compete. Ukiah isn’t growing, and the fast-casual chains that have opened are luring away customers. The mobile pizza oven allows Saucy to break into new territories, and, by doing planned events only, both the amount of food to prepare and the money made are known quantities—better for the bottom line than the understaffed-on-a-packed-night/overstaffed-on-a-dead-night predicament restaurants can face.
The mobile pizza oven will bring both predictability and versatility to the business, allowing it to weather the challenges that disproportionately affect small, independent restaurants. It’s a creative solution for a small town restaurant devoted to using quality ingredients that are locally grown. Between the benefits to our farmers, our community, and our tastebuds, this is one show we’ll want to keep on the road.
Saucy / The Flying Saucy
108 West Standley, Ukiah / (707) 462-7007 / saucyukiah.com