June 15, 2021

Full Court Press: Tony Gemignani Gears Up For The June Bloom

by Joe Bonadio

It has been so long in coming, that now that it’s finally here it almost seems unreal. But today is the day: as of June 15th, California is officially and fully reopened for business. Bars across the state are now seating customers with glee–and after fully fifteen months of crippling restrictions, inside dining is now at 100% capacity statewide.

As if that weren’t enough good news, the turnabout arrives just as the Summer weather is breaking, bringing blue skies and long-overdue warm breezes to San Francisco. Suddenly, everything just feels different out there. And if the crowds of the past weekend are any indication, we’ve got all the ingredients for a bustling, celebratory Summer.

Tony Gemignani has been preparing for this date, seemingly since the pandemic began. Late last week, I spoke with him about this milestone and what it means for the city–and our conversation is below.


Joe Bonadio: This is a big day. It seems like we’ve been waiting for this forever.

Tony Gemignani: It’s a big day, but we might not be open. (Laughs.) On Monday, we are tearing out some old ovens–the Marsal ovens in the back.

JB: At TPN (Tony’s Pizza Napoletana)?

TG: Yes. We are moving in a triple stack electric oven, and that’s going to replace a double stack gas brick oven. That’s going to narrow the kitchen a bit, and then we’re adding another 4-burner. So basically we’re going to be able to double our sauté line, and have the same amount of pizza production on that line.

That’s being done Monday, but it could carry on into Tuesday, depending upon the installation process. We’re preparing the kitchen to handle more volume than we did before, because we know we have twice the seating now.

JB: How many seats did you add altogether?

TG: We had about 100 seats–and now we have 200. We’ve been slowly preparing for this. The bakery was the first part of it, moving the dough production here. We’re able to do twice the amount of dough production now.

I also looked at the kitchen to figure out how we could be faster on our sauté line. If you come on a Friday or Saturday night, pastas and a few other items were lagging.

So we waited for this moment for a year and a half–and we might not be open! (Laughs.)

Yeah, we were supposed to get this oven a week ago, and it was delayed. It’s a triple stack PizzaMaster, a pretty amazing oven. There has been a lot of juggling trying to get it in as fast as we can, and it’s a week late. As it happens, one of our water heaters also went out, so that’s being repaired at the same time.

But we’ll get there.

Inside the Bar at Tony's Pizza Napoletana

Things starting to come back to normal on a recent evening at the bar at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

JB: What else are you looking forward to?

TG: I think what everyone is excited about is taking off the plexiglass dividers that separate you and the customer. And all the paperwork that is plastered everywhere–you have so many city health and safety notices all over our doors and windows.

JB: It makes everything feel very clinical.

TG: Yes! We can’t wait to tear that stuff down, that’s something we’re really excited about. We’re excited that the bar will be 100%. We have so many patrons asking about the bar.

JB: (Raises Hand.)

TG: I know, you’re excited about that (Laughs). We’re eager to add more tables, both inside and out. We’re going to be seating at the pizza counter again, and that’s kind of a couples favorite, to sit at the wood-fire counter.

We’re also looking at adding some pizzas back to the lineup: the Barcelona and the Eddie Munster on the wood-fire line. Our Sausage & Stout pizza, which we teased a little bit over St. Patrick’s Day, we’re bringing that back.

We’ve also added a couple of new items. We’ve got a Bread Pudding, which we make from the Sour Cherry Chocolate batard with Maldon salt that we bake here at Toscano Brothers. We serve that with a salted caramel bourbon sauce and a vanilla bean gelato.

JB: Oh, lord.

TG: Yeah. We launched that one this week. We also have a new large crostini that’s made with our olive and rosemary bread, and served with a tapenade of artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes and Mediterranean olives, alongside some fresh mozzarella. We toast those, and they’re giant.

JB: You’re bringing back some old favorites, and adding a few new things too.

TG: Yes. Another thing that happened during Covid, we changed the taps: we have towers now. If you remember, our old system placed the taps right in the center of the bar, so if you sat there, you’d be looking over the tap at the bartender. We got those out of the way, so it’s much better now when you’re one- on-one with a bartender. We made a lot of changes and upgrades during Covid, and that was one of them.

So yes, we’re excited. I think we’re all hoping that we don’t have to wear masks, and I think that’s still in question, though it probably won’t be once this story comes out.

I guess we’ll find out. But not having a mask when you’re talking to customers, being able to hug someone or shake their hand, rather than just an elbow or a pat on the back….that will be kind of nice, if we’re able to do that.

Tony's burger

The author regards the imposing Tony’s burger with awe on a recent visit. | Photo: Rich Azzolino

JB: It makes a big difference.

TG: It really does.

Meanwhile, we’ve been upgrading, trying to get faster, better, more efficient. Our kitchen is going to be better, and much more comfortable to work in. That oven is two inches less deep….our sauté guy is going to feel like he’s on vacation. And it’s a big investment.

JB: So are there any more changes in the cards at Capo’s?

TG: Well, we’ve already made so many. I destroyed the wood-fire oven, you remember when we took that out. I added the lasagna back on….but I’m still keeping that menu tight.

As a restaurant going through Covid we needed to be more efficient, to control our labor, and look closely at things that work, things that don’t work. Items that you settled for, items that had higher food cost, items that you probably didn’t really need. Maybe one out of 50 people wanted it, and they’re pissed that you don’t have it. The bone-in leg and thigh, the steak, the clams and mussels–some of the things that I love most were the ones that had higher food costs, more spoilage.

It’s working right now. We have no wood order, and we have one less person on the line. Those are the kind of things that are making Capo’s more profitable now.

It’s faster, our margins are tighter, purchasing is better and our inventory is smaller. It’s just better.

JB: How has the traffic been at Capo’s?

TG: We’ve had a couple of great weeks. It has been good, I really can’t complain. You know, that seating outside…. If there’s anything to say to Mayor Breed and the city right now, it’s that the outside seating is just so valuable. It’s helping us to make up for the lost income for the last fourteen or fifteen months. On some days, we’re able to do numbers that we couldn’t even do in 2019. It makes a big difference.

Dago Bagel / Toscano Brothers Bakery

Dago Bagel / Toscano Brothers Bakery has quickly drawn a following among San Francisco locals. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

JB: Word is they’re working on that right now: trying to create a way to tax the parklets and make them permanent. What are you hearing?

TG: I’ve heard all of that, and that there are a few other things they’re looking at. For instance, ADA accessibility. How do you evaluate that now, when you’re on an incline, or a decline? The rules that come up around that could be a real challenge for some places.

JB: And not all parklets are created equal–some of these things look like hell.

TG: It’s true. And who is supposed to moderate that?

JB: And what should the criteria be?

TG: Right. I think the rodent issue is a big one. Pest control is something that’s important; we have a company that takes care of them for us. Cleaning underneath the parklets and general maintenance is going to be important going forward.

Also, are the parklets available to people when they aren’t in use? I’ve seen that come up. And I guess so….but how exactly are people using them? Are they sleeping in them, or sitting in them?

I guess they’re always accessible, unless they’re gated; we like to put our outside seating inside them and lock them up. But that’s just another thing being talked about.

But everybody wants the parklets, and we want to keep them. Anytime a restaurant or business can do more volume, that just means more tax revenue for the city. And when you consider the hit that San Francisco and the state of California took in terms of lost income, this is a great way for them to make up for that.

Restaurants generate the highest sales tax in California, I believe. What a parking space produces can’t compete with what busy tables generate.

JB: Thanks again, Tony.


Make sure to visit Tony at his new North Beach bakery, Toscano Brothers / Dago Bagel. And coming soon: Antonio’s Pastries. Don’t forget to bookmark us, and come back to the blog soon for more details!