Meet ESO Artisanal Pasta, a new food business dreamed up by three entrepreneurs, all under 30, while they worked together at a high end restaurant.
Ayinde “AJ” Sankofa, Joel Camarillo-Diaz and Isaiah Findley-Pinnock spent years hustling at Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen and other restaurants, but when the pandemic hit, everything changed. Dining rooms closed and they were out of work, but unemployment presented an opportunity for the three friends. They suddenly had time to turn their idea into a reality. ESO Artisanal Pasta launched on July 1.
Executive chef AJ, who attended culinary school in Italy and trained under Michelin starred chefs, designs the menu. He makes everything the old-fashioned way. Traditional sauces get simmered low and slow. Pasta is shaped by hand with tools from Italy on custom wooden countertops he built to bring to Garden State Kitchen on production days.
As general manager and operations manager respectively, Joel and Isaiah run everything outside the kitchen. Together, but in separate roles, the three equal partners find balance.
“We try to keep our ‘ace’s in the right places’,” says Isaiah, who used to bartend and has a background in communications. “We split the weight of responsibility for the business which, as you can imagine, has its perks. Having three perspectives has proven to be quite valuable at almost every turn.”
The name ‘ESO’ translates to ‘that’ in Spanish, but it means much more to the three entrepreneurs. Presented in all caps for emphasis, ESO speaks to the comradery AJ, Isaiah and Joel found working together at Jockey Hollow. It’s something you’d shout to celebrate at a soccer match when your team scores, or an enthusiastic way to greet a fellow cook as they clock in and jump into a busy dinner rush.
“If I was working on a new cocktail, or if AJ was in the kitchen fine tuning a new recipe,” Isaiah explains, “we’d commemorate the harmonious moment when all the flavors and textures line up like a key in a lock by exclaiming ‘Eso!’ as though we were winning in Yahtzee.”
When it came time to name their company, the choice was clear. “We figured if the three of us were going to start a business together it would only be right if we paid homage to something that has brought us so close,” Isaiah says.
The team of three has stayed tight, selling at farmers markets, donating to church meal programs, and offering their handmade Italian specialties at a shared storefront in Morristown.