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June 19, 2020

Give The People What They Want: Capo’s Gets A New Concept

by Joe Bonadio

As the lockdown continues to ease in San Francisco, a lot of our favorite restaurants are finally returning to life. North Beach’s Capo’s is one local eatery that has been sorely missed, and happily this week they’re back at it. They opened for outside seating on Wednesday—which just happens to be Tony’s 20th wedding anniversary.

And as you’ll see, there are some very big changes afoot at Capo’s. I recently I sat down with Tony to get the lowdown, and our discussion is below.

Joe Bonadio: I’m hearing rumblings of big changes at Capo’s. A lot of restaurants are changing things up, but I understand it goes way beyond that.

Though it has been reimagined for the new concept, the interior of Capo’s retains its classic early 20th Century style. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

Tony Gemignani: It does. As we kind of moved Capo’s into the Tony’s space for delivery/to-go, I got a chance to look at everything in a new way. And one of the styles of pizza that has become very popular, and is very deliverable and good for takeout, was Detroit.

And as we kept selling more and more Detroit pizzas during this lockdown, I realized that I needed to do something with that style—to take it beyond Tony’s, and bring it into Capo’s. So over the last two and a half months or so, I’ve been working on a new menu at Capo’s. I’m incorporating the Detroit style there, and changing the concept.

I collaborated with Jeremy Fish, and we created a new logo together. It’s pretty awesome. It revolves around this connected guy that got pinched back in the day—Tony Giacalone.

JB: Tony Giacalone?

TG: They called him ‘Tony Jack’ — he’s a famous mafia don that got busted in Detroit back in the Fifties. In Chicago there was The Outfit, and in Detroit there was The Partnership. Both came from Sicily, and the mob got started in Detroit around 1910. I started looking at Detroit, looking into the style, and researching Jimmy Hoffa, the Teamsters, Motown and all that. And it just went from there.

That whole connection between Detroit and Chicago made for the perfect concept. And both styles being pan pizza—I think it’s really going to catapult Capo’s to another level. I can’t handle all the volume out of Tony’s right now, and I need to move it. We’ll always have a few Detroits at Tony’s, but now you’re going to see all these different options at Capo’s.

On the sign for Capo’s, it used to say Chicago Pizza, and I took the Chicago off. When you walk in now, on the wall you’ll see Detroit and Chicago, you’ll see vintage hubcaps from Chevys, Fords and Cadillacs, there’s a Teamsters jacket. I’ve been finding and collecting all kinds of original stuff from Detroit, like items from the Hoffa jury and the Detroit Free Press.

The new menu is going to have a great selection of new small plates, cicchetti, and it will be a lot more approachable. And now in addition to the Deep Dish, Cracker Thin, Stuffed, Cast-Iron and gluten-free, you’ll have the option of Detroit.

JB: And I understand you’re bringing back a classic American style.

TG: Yeah, it’s funny. I’ve been talking to people on the street, and seeing customers I haven’t seen in a while. And sometimes a person will just be having a bad day—I’ve been hearing a lot of that. And I’ll just say, “Hey man, let me make you a pizza.”

You know, I can’t tell you how many people said: “Yeah. Make me a ham and pineapple. That would make my day.” And I’d say, “Well I can’t make your day right now, because I don’t have pineapple at Tony’s!”

It’s ironic, because I was making ham and pineapple pizza at Pyzano’s thirty years ago. We always did.

JB: It was a really popular style.

TG: And it still is! You’d be surprised. It’s just one of those things, you either make it or you don’t. And when I came into San Francisco, I said to the writers and the bloggers, there’s some things I’m not going to have. Wings, ham and pineapple, lots of American combos—you’d see so many American combos back then.

The Hawaii Hitman, with pineapple and three kinds of pork, hits the table at Capo’s in San Francisco. (Spoiler: It’s really good) | Photo: Joe Bonadio

But do I have those things at Pizza Rock? Yeah, I do. It’s Vegas, the people want it.

So I said forget the writers, forget the bloggers. Let me look at what people want.

JB: That means bringing back some old favorites.

TG: Yeah. For instance, we added wings to the Tony’s menu, and we sell hundreds a day. It’s insane. So I brought wings back, and I put things I was doing three decades ago back on the menu. And people like it. That’s what it’s about, what people like.

For a while, I was kind of worried about what people like (former Chron food columnist) Michael Bauer wrote about the place. As a restaurateur, you’d carry that on your shoulders—there were just things you would and wouldn’t do.

And you know what, man? Fuck it. So I went back to my roots just a little bit. But it’s different now. Ham and pineapple now becomes honey bacon pineapple rings with prosciutto. So is it kicked up a few notches? Yes, it is. It will be the best pork and pineapple pizza you’ll ever have.

I have a white pie that I’m going to be doing. I made it for my guys in the back, and said what do you think? And my chef, my GM, my bussers, everybody said it was their new favorite pizza. I said, “Well, it has ranch on it.”

They were all asking me, “How’d you think of that?” And it was literally nothing. This is stuff I used to do thirty years ago. We’ve always offered a side of ranch, and I’ve done ranch pizzas since I’ve been making pizza, but in San Francisco I never did it—because it’s San Francisco.

JB: And I understand some roles will be changing in the kitchen.

TG: Yes. Laura Meyer is going to be our Head Chef at Capo’s now. It’s funny—when I was working on the menu, I called to tell her about some of the new items. “By the way, I’m going to add pineapple to the menu.” And she’s like, “Are you?!”

I told her yes, I was, and that I didn’t want her to be surprised and get all crazy. Then I said, “Oh, there might be a white pie with ranch on it, too.” (laughs)

JB: I love it. So there are some serious curveballs on the new menu.


The brand-new menu at Tony Gemignani's Capo's in San Francisco.
The brand-new menu at Tony Gemignani's Capo's in San Francisco.



TG: Yes, and just more choices overall. Now, you’ll have the option of having a Cal-Italia in a Detroit style, or a Sam Giancana or a Frank Nitti, all these other pizzas.

JB: And you mentioned the new logo. Can you tell us more about that?

TG: I worked on it with Jeremy Fish, the local North Beach artist. I wanted four symbols that represented Detroit, so I told him: give me a tiger for the Detroit Tigers. I want a Teamsters-type logo, but with one horse head instead of two. I need a bottle of pop, representing Faygo grape soda (which I’m still trying to get a line on, by the way). Finally, I need a pair of dice showing snake eyes, with an ace of diamonds, like I’ve got tattooed on my wrist—because I’ve always got something up my sleeve.

And this is what Jeremy came up with. You can see that it’s got my Mercury in it, and of course Giacalone in the center of it all.

He and I have teamed up on so many things over the years. Jeremy’s great. For him to come in and help people out when they needed it—you saw where he raised ten grand, and donated the cash to all the restaurants. It means a lot.

We’re working on an event we’ll be announcing soon. We’ll have Jeremy signing limited edition prints of the original version of the Capo’s logo* for the first hundred Detroits sold that night. We’ll have my Mercury out front that night, and there will probably be a line down the block. I’ve been to Jeremy’s events, and it’s insane.

JB: That seems like an awful lot of changes within a three-month period. You’ve been busy.

TG: Yeah, it has been a process. I took a lot of things off the menu which hurt, because I love them—things like Chicken Marsala, Chicken Vesuvio. I just had to swallow my pride and say: I need to make this concept more approachable, more affordable. I need to add a style that I can’t keep up with at Tony’s. I need to redo the place, reinvest in it, and come up with a cool logo that goes with the Capo’s theme.

Tony hangs an original front page from the Detroit Free Press reporting the Hoffa case in the Capo’s dining room. | Photo: Laura Meyer

What could be better than getting The Outfit of Chicago together with The Partnership of Detroit? It’s perfect. And with Laura Meyer at the helm, too.

It’s exciting. New chef, new pizza, new logo, new design, new concept. We were the first ones to bring Detroit pizza to California. Now we’re bringing Detroit to it’s own brick-and-mortar, pretty much.

 

*The original version of the new Capo’s logo had to be changed for copyright purposes—so these will be truly limited editions.

 

Capo’s is now open for outside dining Wednesday through Sunday from 4:30 to 9:30PM (10PM on Friday and Saturday). Meanwhile, I just started digging into the new menu, so I’ll be back shortly with more.

Capo’s
641 Vallejo Street
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 986-8998
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