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We recently reached out to Gary Vasconi to learn about his new Italian café inside the just-opened R&A Cycles at Walnut Creek, California. Vasconi is a force of nature, the co-founder of Capo cycling apparel and a supporter of the Pablove Foundation. Our worlds collide a few times a year and it always ends up with lots of riding and post-ride adventures. This is his take on designing Ramona’s Kitchen in the R&A cycling center.
THE CONCEPT HAS BEEN AROUND FOR A WHILE with regards to my wanting to do something of this nature, specifically for the cycling community—to bring certain things that I love from Italy over to the U.S. so we can enjoy them every day instead of once a year. Growing up in an old-school Italian family, the meals, specifically dinner and the gatherings on Sunday, were one of the most important aspects of my life. Being able to have that social interaction with unbelievable food, drinks, family and friends…it’s one of those things that anyone who knows me, knows that’s what I live for.
By Gary Vasconi | Images: Paige Dunn
After we had started Capo cycling apparel, I wanted a place to begin and end rides where you could have social interaction, a nice little plate of pasta, pizza, panini, any beverage you want. The original concept was called Super Paesanos. We did this with six individuals, and we would go with six friends to Santa Cruz and spend three days of riding, and then two individuals would cook each night for the group. This was 20 years ago. It morphed into thinking about getting a physical location in the East Bay 10 years ago. I put a business plan together called the Capo Club—a social club for cyclists to congregate, outside seating and a super-high-end mechanic or bike valet that could help build the cycling community.
Numerous things have happened since then. My daughters started to get older, real estate started getting expensive and I wasn’t sure it would pencil out. At the same time, we had been fortunate enough to be working with R&A Cycles for the last 20 years with Capo cycling apparel and I’ve gotten to be very good friends with the Cabbad family, with Phil and Al—the son that is taking over the business. Three years ago, Al came to me to discuss possibilities in Northern California about opening a retail location. We had numerous discussions—location, size, accessibility to trails, riding—and we looked at some great locations.
I had shared my idea with them about a European café and bar numerous times and what the next phase I wanted to do with my life. We continued the dialog and one of Al’s employees actually moved to Walnut Creek and we started talking. So, two years ago, we started looking in this area. Al came out a few times and we went on some rides. As we continued to do our research Al found a building in Walnut Creek. It was a huge space and Al told me he would carve out a space for me to open up a café and bar. We sat down and went over numbers and met at the space. We broke ground in June 2019. The build-out was completed toward the end of January, beginning of February, and the café and shop opened in March.
When you grow up in the family that I did, where everything evolved around the kitchen and food and family, this is a dream come true. We have 25 seats inside and 30 seats outside. We are super-excited to open the doors, get people out on our deck.
Our grand opening was on March 7; over a thousand people came through the store. The East Bay community has been hugely supportive. We just introduced Tri Tip Thursdays and have sold out every week so far.
R&A is Ramona and Albert, the names of the grandparents that started the business back East. My family has been in Concord since 1903. My great grandfather, Antonio Dominique Vasconi, came over and started a saloon and bought a hotel in Concord. The Cabadd family has been in Brooklyn since the early 1920s. These two families have such similar backgrounds, cultures and philosophies about life and family that it’s a great story we can always tell about how we were raised and about our lives.