Samantha Weigel/Daily Journal
Ristorante Capellini occupied the historic building at B Street and Baldwin Avenue in San Mateo.
Ristorante Capellini, a high-end Italian restaurant in downtown San Mateo, is closing its doors after 24 years of serving foodies on the Peninsula and acting as what some say was the impetus for the city’s restaurant movement.
Ristorante Capellini served its final dish last week and the ornamental 10,000-square-foot building at the corner of B Street and Baldwin Avenue will be ready for a new lease.
“I really applaud them for being the catalyst for bringing some really positive changes for the past few decades. We really owe them a lot for creating some traction for more people to come downtown,” said Jessica Evans, executive director of the Downtown San Mateo Association.
Ken Constantino was a fan of the restaurant and is now a Realtor representing the property owners as they work to fill the new vacancy. The three-level ornate building is a 1920s inspired architecturally significant historic landmark that Capellini owners invested $2 million into before it opened for business in 1990, Constantino said.
“I have great respect for what they accomplished and not many restaurants can have their legacy and the amount of years in a very very tough business, to endure all these years as Capellini did, they were pioneers,” Constantino said.
Capellini founder Aaron Ferer is sad to see the restaurant go but proud to say it was one of the first upscale restaurants to locate downtown San Mateo as a Bay Area foodie destination.
His passion for cuisine stemmed from his parents and his interests in design slated him for the restaurant business, Ferer said. He lived nearby and grew tired of his friends insisting on traveling to the city for fine dining; so he opted to open a restaurant that could satisfy their palates, Ferer said.
“This was something I did out of passion and love for a quality product,” Ferer said. “I believe we did our job and met the expectations of our customers and our employers and the people who worked there, with a quality product.”
Ferer and Constantino preferred not to comment on the exact reasons for the restaurant closing.
Mayor Robert Ross was disappointed to hear a restaurant he truly enjoyed would be leaving the city. Capellini’s ambiance and food was an attraction and something that will be missed, Ross said.
“I wish [the city] could have at least had the opportunity to see if there was anything else we could have done to help them stay there,” Ross said. “It really doesn’t feel good because I know Capellini has been a draw for people from outside the city so it brings commerce here. San Mateo is extremely fortunate to have such a vibrant downtown and [a community] that can appreciate good food,” Ross said.
Ferer has fond memories of working at the iconic restaurant with his daughter and those who helped set the stage for downtown’s current restaurant scene. Although he now lives in Utah, he’s saddened by the effect the closure will have on Capellini employees, Ferer said.
“My main concern quite frankly was all the employees who invested 23 years, most have been there that long,” Ferer said. “And my main concern is the losses. The losses of their jobs for all this time and of course, good customers who were loyal all this time.”
The site was once home to a comic store, an accountant office and a drug store before Capellini helped invigorate downtown, Ferer said.
Constantino agrees, but is confident the building will continue to provide a fine dining experience.
“They were visionaries, they were pioneers, they took risks back in the late ’80s when downtown was not as attractive,” Constantino said. “We had a lot of vacancies back then and now it’s just the opposite, now everyone wants to have a little piece of downtown. Capellini was there, there was no one like them of that quality at that time.”
The restaurant scene has boomed since Capellini first opened its doors and the building is ripe for another to take its place. As the small downtown has progressed, so too has the competition, Constantino said.
“I think when you’re that scale, you need to update and you need to constantly evolve. In the case of Capellini, I think they stayed the same; which was part of their strength but I think the customer today expects more and desires a more creative menu … they’re into that locavore movement,” Constantino said. “More than anything, I think the customer today wants a more interesting and varied menu.”
Ross said the city is thankful for what Capellini has brought and looks forward to what comes next.
“Although Capellini will be gone and missed, I believe there will be other restaurants that will probably quickly step up and fill that void,” Ross said.
Evans said she’s looking forward to the future of the site and continuing to bring in new and interesting restaurants, but Capellini will never be forgotten.
“I’ll be sad to see them go,” Evans said. “They were part of the early wave of high-end restaurants that came and they should really be recognized. History could have been different if an innovative restaurant like that weren’t there.”
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