Chow’s Tony Gulisano expands on ambitious new Oakland project


chow-window.0With four Chow restaurants already to his name, it may not have seemed like that big a deal when word leaked that a fifth one would be opening in Oakland.

But for owner and founder Tony Gulisano, this new location is special: A test case for everything he’s learned in the restaurant and grocery business over the last two decades. Gulisano says that he’s still in the process of securing funding for the project—located at 3770 Piedmont Avenue near West MacArthur Boulevard in a former medical building—but its scope is his most ambitious to date.

Rather than just a restaurant, the Oakland spot will mimic the Lafayette Chow in that it will also have a grocery component. But whereas Lafayette has just 600 square feet of market space, the new project will greatly expand that footprint, devoting some five times that area to fresh organic produce, groceries, dry goods, meat and fish counter, and pre-prepared foods. There will also be a full-fledged bakery and a café, in addition to the restaurant, which will serve its typical menu of elevated comfort food from breakfast through dinner. He’s also planning a more casual outdoor picnic-garden area where customers can eat grab-and-go items from the market—a bonus for workers coming over from the nearby Kaiser hospital.

It’s all part of Gulisano’s gradual evolution from restaurateur to restaurateur-grocer, something he sees as a natural, and necessary, step within the Bay Area food scene.

“Most markets, the space allocation is outdated; it’s too big, there’s too much selection and inventory, and it creates massive amount of inefficiency and waste,” he says. “You look at Whole Foods and you could feed a city out of their garbage. We don’t throw anything away, there’s zero waste, because it’s a smaller operation and we have professional cooking people running things who know how to do it.”

Gulisano points to the Lafayette location—by far his best performing per square foot—as proof that the concept can work on a smaller scale. And he’ll have plenty of time to ramp up operations, as the best-case scenario for any opening wouldn’t be until spring of 2016. But Gulisano is already excited about the project, particularly its potential to help empower home cooks by providing not just pre-prepared meals, but made-from-scratch sauces, stocks, and other building blocks to promote healthy cooking, something just a restaurant can’t provide. It’s also something he hopes could be seen as a model for other Bay Area restaurateurs.

“Honestly, I think our colleagues will look at this is as something of a gateway into the future,” he says. “I’ve wanted to do this for 20 years and running the Chow restaurants was what I needed to do to prepare me for this opportunity.”

See this article by Ethan Fletcher of the SF Gate Here.

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