"Everyone was always happy," says Nick Catelli of growing up in his grandparents' restaurant. "It was the local hangout. We had a back door that people could sneak into, so we'd get the farmer guys in here drinking and hiding from their wives. My memories are just of people having a good time."
Now Nick and his sister, Domenica, have reopened Catelli's to great fanfare, not just on Main Street but to the North Bay at large.
In 1936, Catelli's was sandwiched between the town butcher shop and the local shoemaker. For decades, it was a Geyserville institution, the town's bustling Italian restaurant. After Virginia and Santi retired, Nick's father took over until 1994. At the time, Nick was only 13 and Domenica 21, and the family leased out the space.
"We were just waiting," Nick says, sitting in a booth dedicated to the memory of Virginia and Santi, whose presence still hangs heavy in the air 75 years after they opened the restaurant. "Domenica and I were always very adamant about wanting to do the restaurant again in the family name."
Their opportunity came in 2009, when they learned that the owners of the lease would be moving their restaurant. Nick and Domenica decided to seize their chance. The entire family gathered to help, and Catelli's reopened in 2010.
"When you're a kid, if your family owns a business, you always want to follow in their footsteps," says Nick, who spent 13 years working at Johnny Garlic's and Tex Wasabi's in Santa Rosa, and who has opened a total of seven restaurants. "We saw so many happy people in here. You just know that you want your children to be in the same boat. It was always family. It was always home."
Domenica and Nick worked with their father to replicate the old family recipes, like Virginia's ravioli and minestrone soup, experimenting until it tasted just right. The rest of the menu was created by Domenica, who has done extensive work with healthful-eating philosophies and enterprises such as Iron Chef America, WebMD.com and Safeway's O Organics line.
"[The menu] is Domenica's style that she was taught from our grandmother as well as from our father," says Nick. "It is about healthful, fresh, local, sustainable, organic food."
The menu includes much-talked-about meatball sliders ($10.95), 10-layer lasagna ($16.95), chicken sautee sec ($16.50) and seasonal specials, many with local ingredients, such as olives from the Dry Creek Valley. The reopened restaurant has seen support from the local community, including a few old-time customers. Lou Colombano, the first bartender for Catelli's, still comes into the restaurant at age 96.
Nick's strongest memories of growing up in the restaurant are of everyday activities, like coming in after school and having a soda at the bar or eating lunch with his dad. Starting at age five, he would get more bread and butter for the tables. Now, he's answering phones, giving direction to his staff and helping customers.
"It's just awesome that we can be here, supply jobs for people in this town and make people happy," Nick says. "We didn't know if it was ever going to come back. We just happened to have everything fall into place.
"It's basically," he smiles, "the dream come true."
Catelli's, 21047 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville. 707.857.3471.