Bay Area Chow restaurant returns with a new location

Three years after Bay Area favorite Chow closed its remaining restaurant in 2019, chef-owner Tony Gulisano is ready to bring his array of comfort dishes back — this time to a new East Bay city.

Next month, Chow is expected to open at City Center Bishop Ranch mall in San Ramon, as first reported by the Mercury News. Gulisano told SFGATE that he is excited about Chow’s comeback and expects to open Aug. 10 with a menu reminiscent of his former mini restaurant chain.

“We’ll have seafood, tacos, organic burgers, Cobb salads, sandwiches…. and my mother’s spaghetti and meatballs,” Gulisano told SFGATE. “The food here is wholesome, pure, clean and affordable. Everything we do is rooted in homey, unpretentious food. My concept has always reflected the rich and varied ethnicities in the Bay Area, and we’ll keep on doing that.”

Gulisano said that the new San Ramon location will have a full liquor license, which he said was something previous Chow restaurants lacked. Once opened, he plans to serve craft cocktails on the canteen menu. Moreover, Chow will include a marketplace with a selection of fresh produce for oven-ready meals.

The Lafayette Chow restaurant is pictured in this file 2008 photo. Chef-owner Tony Gulisano plans to bring back his popular Bay Area restaurant after years of closure.

San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst N/San Francisco Chronicle via Gett

“It’s a corner store that is synergetic with the cafe,” Gulisano said. “I started that in Lafayette … and we’re going to keep driving that here. We can put items together so that they’re vacuumed sealed and … essentially prepared for you. It’s a chef-driven prepared market.”

Gulisano admits that he wasn’t familiar with San Ramon prior to working on the opening. In fact, he was ready to move to Hawaii as he considered opening a “mini-Chow” in Kauai. But, as fate would have it, the landlord refused to lease him a space. Not long after, he said the San Ramon opportunity fell onto his lap.

“I was on my way to Hawaii to do a tiny place and then I got a call,” Gulisano said. “A friend of mine, who was a founding server at Chez Panisse, knew the owners of the [San Ramon] location and they were looking for an operator. It took a lot of vision to design the space, and I feel very lucky.”

In 1997, Gulisano opened the first Chow restaurant location in San Francisco at 215 Church St. At the time, a restaurant like Chow was an outlier, he said, given the range of different cuisines it listed on its menu.

“When Chow opened at Church Street, people were like, ‘What is this? Italian, Chinese?’ In 1997, that was radical. They didn’t like all that food together. It was confusing to them,” Gulisano said.

Chow’s mixed menu eventually picked up and before long, there were more locations around the Bay Area. Park Chow opened in the Inner Sunset, followed by more Chow stores in Oakland, Danville and Lafayette. But in 2018 and 2019, the domino effect of closures shook the mini restaurant chain, beginning with Park Chow, which closed after 20 years in service in January 2018. The Danville closure was next in May 2018. Then the last three Chow restaurants shuttered in 2019, with the Lafayette restaurant closing last in May 2019.

Despite the closures and subsequent Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection filing in October 2019, Gulisano continued working on his life craft and shared that he knew he would eventually open another restaurant. He admits that establishing a restaurant today has become more challenging compared to the late 1990s, but he’s ready to move forward. He’s especially thrilled to be in a location that already has popular restaurant options such as the Slanted Door by chef-owner Charles Phan.

When asked if he had considered reopening Chow in San Francisco, Gulisano pauses for a moment of reflection.

“I loved being in the Castro,” Gulisano said of his flagship store. “That was my favorite community, and it was like a party every night. [San Francisco] is the kind of place that is inspiring when you’re younger, but now I want nature, calmness and serenity. San Ramon is right in terms of speed for me now. I’ve fed people for 55 years, that’s all I’ve done my whole life. I feel very fortunate to be given this opportunity because some people don’t even have a chance to express their passion.”

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