Larry Mindel

Proprietor

After 30 years of building successful restaurants, Larry Mindel has cut quite a wide swath in the culinary landscape. With Poggio, he makes his definitive mark. It’s been a long and adventurous trip to complete his vision of what a great restaurant can be with Poggio, one that began with personal epiphany years ago during his first trip to Italy and that has since included uncountable trips between California and ‘The Boot.’ But for Italophiles everywhere, it was a journey well worth the effort. Larry opens a restaurant that reflects not just where he’s been, but who he is. Poggio is the natural extension of a career marked with numerous accolades and wonderful restaurants.

“I’m not trying to build a new empire here,” says Larry. “This is just all of my experience wrapped into four walls. My hope is that it will be a place my friends and family feel comfortable in.”

Millions of people across the country have enjoyed visiting Larry’s restaurants, though many are likely to recognize the establishments before they recognize the man. Combining a passion for Italy and keen restaurant savvy, Larry has created such trend-setting restaurants as Ciao in San Francisco, which was the first restaurant in the U.S. to feature exhibition pasta making in view of the dining room, highlighted with all-white décor and floors made of white Pirelli rubber. Two years later, Larry opened Prego in San Francisco, bringing one of the first restaurant exhibition pizza ovens to the United States and launching this nation-wide trend. He also reinvented Il Fornaio, changing it from a charming collection of Italian bakeries into an empire of restaurants and bakeries in five states generating more than $150 million in annual revenue.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan, Larry’s career took root in San Francisco when he became CEO of the Caswell Coffee Company. Under his direction, the company doubled revenues for four consecutive years. From there Larry founded Spectrum Foods, where as Chairman and CEO he began changing the California restaurant scene with the likes of Guaymas in Tiburon, California and MacArthur Park in San Francisco and Palo Alto. When Spectrum merged with Saga Corporation, Larry was named president of the company’s restaurant group, in charge of more than 200 restaurants generating a combined $375 million in annual revenue.

In 1987, Larry became chairman and CEO of Il Fornaio. Within ten months he opened the first Il Fornaio Cucina Italiana e Panetteria just outside of San Francisco in Corte Madera, California, a concept that quickly caught on and has grown to include restaurants, bakeries, and retail outlets throughout the western US.
Larry has been widely recognized for his achievements within the hospitality industry. These awards include the 1998 International Foodservice Manufacturers Association “Gold Plate” Award – considered by many to be the industry’s ultimate honor — and induction into the California Restaurant Association’s Hall of Fame, also in 1998. Perhaps the honor closest to his heart, however, is the Caterina de Medici Medal, awarded to him in 1985, when Larry became the first American and first person of non-Italian descent to receive this medal from the Italian government, recognizing excellence in the preservation of Italian heritage outside of Italy.

Now, with more than 30 Italian restaurants under his belt, Larry is finally zeroing in on a definitive spirit with Poggio. “I feel I have gotten as close as I can to the very heart of what Italian cooking and hospitality are about,” he says. “And this is one person’s dream of doing a restaurant as well as it can be done.”
Larry resides in Sausalito, along with his wife and family. And while he continues to make regular pilgrimages to Italy, he maintains a special connection to the Bay Area. Poggio will be Larry’s Italian love letter to his home. “I’ve lived here for 37 years,” he says, “and this restaurant is a chance for me to give something back to a community that has been so great to me.”

Benjamin Balesteri

Chef

Benjamin Balesteri was born in Monterey and raised in the Salinas Valley. The Swiss farming family on his mother’s side gave him an appreciation of growing seasonal vegetables, artisanal cheese, and seasonally butchered meats. The Sicilian fishermen on his father’s side taught him how to fish in the Monterey Bay and the best ways to prepare freshly caught fish and seafood and bring out their unique qualities.

Balesteri, now 32 years old, showed a natural aptitude for the culinary arts. He began working in restaurants at an early age, and eventually enrolled in culinary school at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. Through visiting chefs, he was given an opportunity at Tra Vigne to travel to Italy. His time in Italy was both familiar and inspiring to him and it was during this period of his life that he learned firsthand his own Italian culture as well as the language. “Just like the people in Italy, I’m guided by what’s available in the wild and in the garden,” Balesteri explains. “In Italy, they don’t manipulate food, but rather, bring out what’s best about it. I do this at Poggio, as well.”

Upon his return from Italy, he joined Poggio as a sous chef, and in 2010, he couldn’t resist the challenges of New York City and became the opening sous chef at Lincoln, working under acclaimed Chef Jonathan Benno.

In early 2012, the lure of fishing, surfing, and the country’s best fruits and vegetables brought Balesteri back to California, where he was welcomed home to Poggio. In early 2013, Balesteri was promoted to executive chef at Poggio where he is leading the kitchen and continuing the exciting house cured charcuterie, fresh pasta and culinary program the restaurant has become known for. “Growing up, great food was important to my family, but it was really about people coming together,” Balesteri said. “This is the tradition of Poggio that I intend to carry on.”

Amy Svendberg

Managing Partner

Growing up in culture rich Chicago, IL, surrounded by culinary enthusiasts, it is no surprise that Amy Svendberg ended up leading a life in restaurants. Amy not only has a zest for food and wine, but also has experience in top-rated eateries from all around the world.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in French Business and Translation from Northern Illinois University, Amy headed straight for Paris, where her true passion for food and hospitality came to life. After five years in the lively restaurant world of Paris, Amy returned home to Chicago, continuing her career in food and hospitality, including four years as the general manager at Kimpton Group’s Atwood Café.

By 2007, Amy made her move to San Francisco,  and soon crossed paths with Larry Mindel. “I was originally drawn to work for Poggio by owner Larry Mindel’s outstanding reputation in the restaurant industry, the beauty of Sausalito and the outstanding talent in their kitchen,” says Amy. Her Parisian-instilled ideals of seasonal cuisine and the craft of creative dishes with locally-available ingredients were met in Poggio and its Certified Organic Garden.

Since becoming managing partner in January of 2008, Amy has poured herself wholeheartedly into every aspect of the dining experience from greeting guests at the door, to serving plates, to regularly collecting feedback from servers on how to offer the best possible environment for guests. “My continual goals as the managing partner are to help create a memorable experience for each guest and to showcase what makes Poggio so special through warm and personable service.”

In 2012, Amy, Larry Mindel, and Joanne Weir joined forces to open Copita Tequileria y Comida, also located in Sausalito bringing an authentic, new perspective of Mexican cuisine to the Bay area.

When not at Poggio, Amy enjoys rock climbing with her husband, Tommy, the director of wine-buying for Soutirage; running; spending time with her fourteen-year-old son; and doting on two English bulldogs, Harry Sparkles and Beautiful Sophie. She resides in San Francisco.

About Poggio Trattoria

About Poggio Trattoria
Poggio is a classic Italian trattoria with comfortable neighborhood charm and destination-caliber cuisine. Using the best available local ingredients and property-grown organic herbs and vegetables, the daily changing menu features soulful classics of Northern Italy, simply and earnestly prepared.

Larry MindelBenjamin BalesteriAmy Svendberg