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December 28, 2023

Victory Lap: After Nearly 22 Years, Jose Acevedo Returns Home To Mexico

by Joe Bonadio

Having perambulated the North Beach neighborhood for well over 20 years now, I’ve learned a little bit about the culture here. And while we obviously occupy some pretty choice real estate on this edge of the city, North Beach is, and apparently always has been, resolutely middle class. Combined with the neighborhood’s entrenched café culture, that strong egalitarian streak is one of the things that define the neighborhood. It has also fostered an unusually close bond between North Beachers and the bartenders, servers and managers who serve our drinks, listen to us bitch, and generally make our lives better. In a lot of ways, our service professionals make up the core of the North Beach community.

Jose Acevedo in his natural environment: behind the bar

Jose Acevedo in his natural environment: behind the bar at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

Of course, bartenders hold a particularly special place in the neighborhood’s heart. Naturally we all have our favorites, but every once in a while a bartender comes along that everyone can agree on—and one of those people is Jose Acevedo of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana.

If you know Jose, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. In a sea of competition, the guy is simply one of the most popular bartenders this neighborhood has ever seen. I’ve watched him operate behind the Tony’s bar for many years now, and the guy just has such a knack for dealing with people. Once I caught on to him, Jose quickly became one of my favorite bartenders, and I interviewed him at length in this space back in March of 2021.

What a group: from left to right, Tony Gemignani, JP Jacques, Jose Acevedo, Robvell Smith and Stephanie Danese.

What a group: from left to right, Tony Gemignani, JP Jacques, Jose Acevedo, Robvell Smith and Stephanie Danese. | | Photo Courtesy of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana

You might also know that Jose recently moved back to Mexico, after spending over 20 years in the United States. But not before having one of the biggest going away parties you could possibly hope for: Tony closed Capo’s for the occasion, and brought in a huge friends-and-family crowd that was a Who’s-Who of North Beach.

The place was packed to the gills, and Tony himself was flying solo in the kitchen, cranking out special pizzas for the lively crowd. It couldn’t have been a bigger turnout, and just about anyone who ever worked at Tony’s or Capo’s showed up to send Jose off. Once everyone had some food in front of them, Tony came out to speak to the crowd, and pay tribute to Jose—a guy that has been by the pizza maker’s side since the opening of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana almost 15 years ago.

Spirits were high, and once everyone was well lubricated, Tony broke out the serious party gear. Of course, I’m referring here to a genuine piñata.

Tony in the kitchen at Capo's

With a house full of revelers, I found Tony in the kitchen at Capo’s, doing what he does best. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

I’ve got to say, those things are more durable than you think: JP spun him around pretty good, and I was afraid Jose would knock himself out before he finally got that thing open. But accompanied by some raucous cheering from the crowd, he eventually beat it into submission.

I know that I’m speaking for a lot of people when I say that I’ll truly miss Jose. Earlier last week, he and I sat down for a drink at Showdown ahead of his departure; lightly edited for length and clarity, our conversation is below.

Joe Bonadio: So Jose! Here we are after fourteen and a half years. How do you feel?

Jose Acevedo: I feel….sad. But at the same time, I’m very happy.

JB: It’s a lot to walk away from.

JA: Yep. It’s a lot. Being part of this family, the Tony’s family, has been a very good experience for me. Getting all this knowledge….I really appreciate Tony giving me the opportunity to be a part of that.

But I guess it’s time to go back home. After more than 20 years away from the family….it’s tough. So I get to finally go back home to celebrate a very nice Christmas. The original one, all together.

Tony takes the stage to pay tribute to Jose Acevedo

Tony takes the stage to pay tribute to Jose Acevedo, an original employee at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, who will be sorely missed. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

I hope I can get all of my brothers together, but you know how it is. My brothers Rafael, Angel and Mario are still going to be working at Tony’s.

JB: The fearsome foursome!

JA: That’s right!

JB: How long have the four of you been working together at Tony’s?

JA: Well I’ve been here for 22 years, and I brought Mario 2 years after that. He started with Tony at the very beginning,  and he was the one who brought me in. I had just quit working at Chevy’s, and he was like Jose, we need you over here.

JB: A little nepotism goes a long way.

JA: Yep!

JB: So what are you planning to do when you get back down to Mexico?

JA: I’ve had a business there for the last two years, and thank god it’s been doing very well. It’s a home supply company—kind of like a Best Buy, but on a smaller scale. And I have a grocery store there, too.

Jose with Robvell Smith and Stephanie Danese

Jose with Robvell Smith and Stephanie Danese, just two of the bartenders who originally taught him the ropes at the Tony’s bar. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

JB: Where is this?

JA: In Ticul.

JB: So you told me that you’ve only been back home once in the past 20 years. Do you feel like you’re going into the unknown?

JA: Yes, I do. I feel like I’m starting over, starting a brand-new story.

But it’s going to take some time to get used to everything. Because it’s not the same; the times aren’t the same, and computers run everything. Even though I’ve already got a business running there, I’ve got to start over. Even just recognizing people: there are people who were little kids when I left, and now they’re adults.

Some of them have come to the restaurant, and said Jose, you don’t remember me? People who were five years old when I left. Man, how in the hell am I going to remember you? [Laughter]

Victory Lap: Jose punishes the piñata at his jubilant going away party at Capo's in North Beach

Victory Lap: Jose punishes the piñata at his jubilant going away party at Capo’s in North Beach. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

JB: It’s going to be interesting for you. You’re going to be home….but you’re not going to be a celebrity anymore.

JA: I’m going to try and stay on top of that! I’ve learned from Tony that once you are up there, the trick is to stay up there. That’s the hard part. So I’m planning to make TV commercials for my business.

JB: That’s great. You’ve spent over two decades of your life here, Jose. What do you think is the most important thing that the United States taught this Mexican boy?

JA: Respect. Humanity. Be kind to other people. To me, that’s the key to everything.

JB: That’s a good answer. Thank you for everything, Jose. And good luck.

JA: Thank you. And thank you to San Francisco, for everything.