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.”