By Richard Eber
If ever there was needed a call for help during the current COVID-19 Pandemic, it is from local restaurants who have seen their business dwindle with no dine-in business permitted. Those still operating are trying to survive until better times come.
One such eatery that has been beating the curve is Rocco’s Ristorante & Pizzeria at 2909 Ygnacio Valley Road at Oak Grove in Walnut Creek. A business that has prospered for 21 years, by catering to local youth and adult teams, delivering an enjoyable dining experience, and managing a thriving bar trade. Despite its past success, this family oriented establishment has had to recently reinvent itself.
Rocco Biale, owner of the restaurant that bears his name has been up to the challenge. Using a web site that keeps in touch with his thousands of clients, he has utilized a brisk take-out and delivery service to keep his operations afloat. To encourage business, he has cut menu prices by 20% for pick-up orders.
Rocco has also extended his popular once-a-week family style $39.95 Spaghetti Dinner. It is now offered every day. Complete with ample servings of meat balls, choice of sauce, pasta, garlic bread and a bottle of house wine, this menu expansion has proven to be a winner. With a complement of their famous array of pizza offerings (my favorite is The Dominator), they have maintained a brisk business especially in the evenings despite the Shelter-in-place.
“At peak times, lines for take-out extends all the way to Applebee’s,” Rocco proudly stated. “This has allowed us to keep most kitchen staff employed with only food servers and bar tenders needing to be laid off during the pandemic.”
Even in these incredibly hard times for restaurants, Rocco has continued his long record of supporting community organizations and worthy causes with gift certificates. Currently, the restaurant is providing 120 meals a day to nearby hospitals to feed workers. This food is delivered by loyal Rocco’s customers who desire to play a small part in helping others.
For Rocco Biale, what is transpiring with his business reflects a lifetime he has spent in the restaurant field. Starting as a boy who helped at his Grandfather’s butcher shop on Connecticut Street in San Francisco Rocco worked at several restaurants in California and Hawaii prior to opening Rocco’s. In addition to working for his Dad Mario and Uncle Rudy, Rocco’s Mother-in-law successfully also operated Maria Elena’s Mexican Restaurant in Concord for over 20 years.
Rocco reflected on when he decided to open the business in 1999.
“At that time, I was putting in 70 hours a week at Melo’s in Livermore. I decided if all this work was to be done by me, I might as well open my own place.” Although not a chef, Rocco incorporated family recipes (especially their red sauces) to create a menu that reminds one of small eateries that can be found in Italian North Beach Cafes in his native San Francisco.
In addition to pizza, they offer a diverse selection of homemade entrees including risotto, polenta, cannelloni and, lasagna ortaggio. They also feature sea food delicacies such as calamari, prawns savona, and my go to dish, linguini with clams. New items are routinely added to the menu.
Not to be forgotten are Rocco’s salad offerings. I am hooked on their Caesar (with shaved parmesan cheese and extra anchovies) but they also serve excellent alternatives of Italian Chopped, Caprese, and Mediterraneo salads. Freshly grilled shrimp makes an excellent add-on to all these items.
The robust bar business thrives by offering a respectable list of California and Italian wines and a wide variety of beer including several local breweries.
In the restaurant field there are owners, chefs, line cooks, waiters, dish washers, and other staff members who toil in the industry. Of this group there are few individuals who have earned the elite title of being “Restaurateur.” One such person who has earned such a lifetime achievement award is Rocco Biale.
When the Corvid-19 Pandemic is over, we can expect them to resume normal operations. Until that time Rocco will be manning the fort and continue to serve his clients and the community in the civic-minded way that has characterized the business since it was founded.