Scores of customers and friends streamed into Graziano's Ristorante last weekend to bid farewell with hugs, smiles and a few tears to one of Petaluma's best-loved restaurants and its owner, Graziano Perozzi.
After 31 years on Petaluma Boulevard, serving up authentic Italian fare with a family touch, Perozzi is retiring and the restaurant has been sold.
On Monday, June 24, McNear's Managing Partner Ken O'Donnell, along with his wife Carrie and partners Kent Armbright and Jeff and Stacy Inglin, assumed the historic site, originally known as the Wikersham Building. They will reopen the space as a steakhouse and seafood bar, to be named Seared Steaks and Seafood.
Patron Chris Roberts, who works in software at Autodesk, and his partner Steve Fricke, an officer with the California Highway Patrol and a traffic reporter for station KZST, did not want to miss Graziano's last night, though both had 4 a.m. wake-up calls.
"They've treated us like family," said Fricke. "Whenever we bring my parents or Chris's here, we spend the first 15 minutes hugging and catching up. Our parents ask, 'Do you know everyone here?' and the answer is, 'Yes, pretty much!'"
The current employees have been offered the opportunity to stay with the new operation and many of them have accepted, a factor that was comforting to the customers who treasure their long-time relationships with the staff.
"We've known (manager) Geoff Holroyd since he was a busboy here," said Roberts. "Over the years, he has developed into a poised young man, skilled in customer service."
Holroyd is staying on as a manager for Seared and is energized about the new concept, but will miss Perozzi. "I grew up in this restaurant," said Holroyd. "So I know how hard Graziano worked to stay in business for 31 years. He deserves time to enjoy life."
Perozzi first planned to retire in July of 2012, but the sale fell through. Now he's set to begin his leisure days getting closer to the land. "Right now I'm going to spend time in my garden and tend my olive trees," he says with a big smile. "I have met so many wonderful people, and I will miss them, but it's time to hand over the reins."
The new owners started work immediately on the remodel, with the key changes in the kitchen, to accommodate grilled items and a hanging locker for aging the meat.
The O'Donnells' son Joe, former general manager of McNear's and a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Scottsdale, will be a full partner and helm the kitchen, focusing on fresh seafood, steaks cooked in an 1,800-degree oven, a raw bar featuring seasonal fish and seafood and locally sourced ingredients.
"The menu will be amazing," says Ken O'Donnell. "We plan to have a quiet opening some time in July."
O'Donnell will remain at McNear's after launching the new restaurant.
While Graziano's closing has brought an era to an end, many customers say they will take with them warm memories of the times spent there.
One of Teela Bihn's earliest memories is piling into the family station wagon with her seven siblings and her mother and going to Graziano's International Deli in the Petaluma Plaza, loading up with aromatic charcuterie and cheeses and dishes redolent with hints of Italian history and tradition.