Mountain View's popular Italian restaurant Frankie, Johnnie and Luigi Too will be taking a hiatus from serving up pizzas and pastas next year, shutting down to rebuild the restaurant with a greater focus on takeout and delivery.
The original restaurant building, an iconic fixture along El Camino Real since the 1950s, will be scrapped and replaced by a three-story, mixed-use building. Above the revamped restaurant will be two stories of senior memory care homes aimed at supporting seniors with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.
The D'Ambrosio family, which owns the restaurant and adjacent properties, has been mulling what to do with the site for years as neighboring stretches of El Camino have evolved into dense housing. John D'Ambrosio, one of the sons running the family business, said they wanted to do something different with the property and thought about doing apartments, but ultimately rejected the idea in favor of something that can serve the community.
"My brother and I have been taking over the family business with some input from my dad and we just thought well, what else can we do?" D'Ambrosio said. "We considered apartments, we considered condos, and one day we just came up with the idea of some kind of mental health facility."
City officials approved the plans in August this year, and construction is slated to begin sometime in the first quarter of 2021. The restaurant is tentatively planned to reopen in early 2023.
Having the restaurant shuttered might actually be a good thing financially, D'Ambrosio said. Frankie, Johnnie and Luigi Too had not been performing as well as he had hoped prior to the coronavirus pandemic, and the public health restrictions on indoor dining only made things worse. Now seems like the ideal time to hit pause and reimagine the future of the business, he said.
One thing that's clear is that the community, while it still likes the food, has shifted away from eating at the restaurant in favor of delivery meals, D'Ambrosio said. The new iteration of the restaurant will still have tables, but it will focus less on in-house dining and play to their strengths primarily as a delivery business.
"We're going to make it into more of a delivery or 'to-go' friendly atmosphere instead of a full-service restaurant," he said. "We don't want to get rid of in-house seating, but it may go in that direction."
Running the upstairs memory care homes will be Calson Management, which operates seven senior living facilities across the Bay Area. Each floor will have its own communal spaces, dining room and activity room, and will evenly split the 60 live-in residents into two separate communities. The restaurant will also double as the food kitchen for the residents, leveraging the downstairs talent to cook up meals for seniors living in the same building.
Jason Reyes, a principal at Calson Management, said he met the D'Ambrosio family through a mutual acquaintance and invited them to tour one of his senior care homes in Vacaville. He said they were inspired to build something similar in Mountain View, and seemed more interested in creating a community resource than cashing out on the property.
"I think with their zoning and their location, they have the opportunity to do large, high-end multifamily housing on the site, and that would driven more income over time," he said. "But they wanted to keep the restaurant and give back to the community."
The vast majority of those living in the future memory care home are expected to be residents in Mountain View and neighboring cities. Reyes said the general rule of thumb is that 90% of residents will be within a 3-mile radius of their original home, and 95% will come from within 5 miles. Most elderly seniors do not want to move away from their friends, family, church and their doctors, he said, making it important to have a residential care facility nestled in the community.
The average age of those served in memory care is 82, and the majority are women.
Between the aging baby boomer population and extended life expectancy in the U.S., the country's population of people ages 85 and over is expected to balloon from 6.4 million in 2016 to 14.6 million in 2040. Reyes said Mountain View and the larger Bay Area has a limited availability of senior housing already, and it's going to take more care facilities to keep up with the demand.
"This is going to have severe impacts in the future if we're not able to keep up with that demand," Reyes said. "Unfortunately in the Bay Area land is scarce and development is timely and expensive."
The more recent projects that Reyes has spearheaded, including a six-story senior care facility in San Jose, have been mixed use rather than standalone residential care homes. In the case of Frankie, Johnnie and Luigi Too, Reyes said the future residents are clearly going to have an edge on the others when it comes to good Italian food.