AND NOW THE END IS NEAR. “It’s been a wonderful relationship,” Theresa Bargiacchi Erwin shared recently about the upcoming closure of her Francesco’s Restaurant in Oakland at the end of the month.
The Bargiacchi family name has been associated with restaurants in Oakland since Josephine “Mama” Bargiacchi had the North Pole Club and Villa de la Paix, followed by her son Dewey’s Chandelier in Jack London Square prior to Francesco’s.
Theresa is the third-generation at this family-owned restaurant and institution that was founded by her father Dewey Bargiacchi in 1968. For over four decades this has been her life. “I’d been here since it opened,” she said. She would work part time until she graduated from college and had “decided that I would work at the restaurant temporarily until I found something more productive.”
A graduate of U.C. Berkeley, majoring in Sociology, Theresa soon learned that her major would still apply but it would be at the location on Pardee and Hegenberger Roads where a family tradition was born and generations would come for hospitality, good food and a friendly familiar smile. “I got too comfortable with the associations, the people,” added Theresa. “I like that give-and-take with the customer and pretty much decided that I was going to get my fill here instead of in social work.”
The early years enjoyed a lot of action along with the Spaghetti and Meatballs, Osso Bucco, Veal Parmigiana and tableside Caesar Salad. “There was so much activity in this area in the early 70s and 80s and we were really kind of spoiled at that time, she said.” The Raiders, Warriors, Seals and Oakland Athletics all made Oakland their home. “That kind of activity generated so much interest in the area.” Even the few hotels that were nearby were always full and “jumping.” Sports notables such as Sal Bando, Campy Campaneris, Joe Rudi, Reggie Jackson, Ray Fosse, Tom Flores and Al Davis frequented the restaurant. Mr. Davis had his own booth and a phone jack to go with it. Additionally the traveling teams would stop by too. “Most of them were good about signing autographs,” she shared.
Davis’ booth was also shared by Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford and Billy Martin, chimed in Chef Mike Erwin, who has had a couple of stints at the restaurant, the last being over 14 years. Erwin is also the former husband of Theresa who also met at the restaurant. Together they still share the love of their daughter and the business. “We love each other. We want to kill each other, but we love each other,” he laughed. Such is the life of running any family business and Francesco’s is no exception. Even their employees are like family. Waiter Juan Villegas has been there 47 years as well as Cucu Curiel who started as a dishwasher and moved up. Today is the night manager. Most of the employees have been there from 20-40-plus years.
Theresa’s sister Vicky met her future husband the first year she worked there and her brother Frank also worked there until his passing from cancer seven years ago. “He was instrumental in every aspect of it,” Theresa reflected. “He was just the kind of guy that could do everything.”
While other parts of the city have enjoyed a resurgence, this area has only recently enjoyed a bit of a renovation as drive towards the freeway but the rest of the area has had its challenges. “If it wasn’t for the sports teams and the airport bringing people to this area,” adds Theresa, “I don’t think it’s been very well cared for.”
Customer and business neighbor Sandy Gross of AFCO Electronics is also a longtime customer having moved their third-generation family business into the area the same year as Francesco’s. In many ways, he represents the spirit of Francesco’s. “My uncle came in here and he picked out a table where he could see everybody walk in because he liked to see people,” said Gross. While his uncle has passed on, he’s been a regular with his father for years. “We still come in two, three days a week. It’s great food.” And it’s close to his business. “I don’t know what I’m going to do when she closes. I’ve seen generations of families come through.”
“I think it’s time in a lot of ways,” said Theresa. “We’ve seen the ups and downs over the years. Forty-eight years is a long time to be in business. When you’re in the restaurant business you live and die in the restaurant and I think there’s other things to do now in life.”
Francesco’s Restaurant will serve its last customer on Thursday, March 31. Stop by, reminisce, and mangia! Make your reservation today by calling 510-569-0653. For a peek at the menu and historical photos, visit www.francescosrestaurant.com. I’ll be by for one last Osso Bucco myself in memory of my father, columnist Perry Phillips, who treated me to many a meal during his 29-year stint with the Oakland Tribune. Salute!