Shop Talk | May 9, 2007 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - May 9, 2007

Shop Talk

by Daryl Savage

SPAGO LEAVING TOWN . . . Spago, the high-end downtown Palo Alto restaurant known for its fine food and high prices, is pulling out of Palo Alto at the end of May to concentrate on other directions, such as alliances with luxury hotels, the Wolfgang Puck chain of restaurants announced Friday. Called it a delayed victim of the 2001 dotcom bust, perhaps, when empty tables replaced waiting lines. Spago management dropped a big hint of changing directions last January — reported in Shop Talk — when it announced it would not do its annual gourmet Passover Seder, personally prepared by Puck and always sold out for the six years it has been presented. No word yet on the fate of other Spagos in Beverly Hills, Las Vegas and Maui. The Palo Alto Spago has about 50 employees, some of whom may be able to transfer to the dozen or so other restaurants owned by Puck, including the award-winning Postrio in San Francisco. The impending departure has started a flurry of talk and phone calls about a replacement restaurant for the historic building, which dates from 1927 when it was built to house the Tinney & Sons Mortuary. Tinney later combined with Roller & Hapgood, and the building began a new life as a restaurant when it was remodeled to become The Gatehouse in 1974. After a 20-year run during which it became a community fixture, The Gatehouse gave way to Stars restaurant in 1995, owned by a group of 60 Silicon Valley investors who put in about $2 million in upgrades. But after a couple of bumpy years, the investors switched horses, or celebrity chefs, and teamed up with Wolfgang Puck, with a major redesign of the interior by architect Adam Tihany. "Money poured in," General Manager and partner Alex Resnick told a Weekly food reviewer last year, until the bust of 2001 left empty tables. "Customers were gone after 2001," he added. Despite a comeback and some loyal regulars, the recovery has been too slow, and Puck's company will look for new venues.

'MOST ROMANTIC' RESTAURANT CLOSING . . . Maddalena's Continental Restaurant at 544 Emerson St. will serve its last veal scaloppini on May 19, when the restaurant officially shuts down. The quietly sophisticated restaurant was a frequent winner of the "most romantic" category in the Palo Alto Weekly's annual "Best of ..." contest. "The landlords had other plans, so they didn't renew our lease," said owner Fred Maddalena, who opened his restaurant in 1976. Cafe Fino, also owned by Maddalena and adjacent to the original restaurant, will remain, however. "We have the only cabaret in town and we're going to continue," Maddalena said of Cafe Fino, which will undergo a brief remodel. The spirited Maddalena started in the cabaret business in 1950 in Toronto, where he owned his first club. "Bob Newhart was my emcee. We even had a chorus line," he reminisced.

PARTNERSHIP LAUNCHES HAIR SALON . . . After being vacant for nearly two years, major construction has begun at 334 California Ave., the former site of Draper's Music Center. The storefront is now completely hidden from view by 7-foot-high wooden planks, as workers inside transform the former music store into a hair salon. Local stylists John Leach and Jaime Garcia, of Bocca's Hair Specialists, 2426 Park Blvd., are jumping ship and moving around the corner to create their own shop. The name of their salon, Legar, is the combination of the first few letters of each of their last names. And just for the record, Legar is supposed to rhyme with "cigar," not "beggar."

CALIFORNIA PAINT SHRINKS . . . More changes are taking place just down the street from the Draper's site. California Paint and Wallpaper, 360 California Ave., halved itself. It was more than 20 years ago that CP&W took over two storefronts in one building. One of the storefronts was the paint side, the other the wallpaper/drapery side. Now it is back to the original plan — everything in one storefront. The other half sits vacant until a new tenant can be found.

HOT MANGO PICKLE . . . Sounds like a condiment or a restaurant or a non-sequitor. Wrong on all counts. It's Bryant Street's latest offering in the home-decor market. Opened last month, downtown's newest boutique is located at 539 Bryant St. Hot Mango Pickle offers a range of products for the home, everything from Indian artifacts to Persian rugs. The shop has managed to carve out a unique niche for itself. Owned by cousins Ushi Patel and Rupal Patel, the unusual name of the boutique refers to their Indian heritage. "Hot Mango Pickle is the ... sweet and spicy relish often served with Indian food. Like the relish, Hot Mango Pickle is the coming together of opposites — a look that is chic and edgy, bold and functional," Ushi said.

Heard a rumor about your favorite store or business moving out, or in, down the block or across town? Daryl Savage will check it out. She can be e-mailed at


Posted by Kevin C, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 20, 2010 at 3:40 pm

Hi I worked for Fred Maddalena when I was in my 20's ! Now in my 40's know he is in his 80's I would sure like to shake his hand & tell him that he was one of the best resturant poeople I have ever worked for ! Vince, Mia, his other son I was friends with please email me at I was chef of Fino & Sous Cheh of Maddalenas for a bit in my early resturant yrs !
Kevin C

Posted by Goodbye Spago, a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 22, 2010 at 11:02 pm

Looks like Spago's is just a pile of rubble now. It's been demolished.

Posted by Nora Charles, a resident of Stanford
on Jan 31, 2011 at 11:11 pm

Kevin C,

Fred Maddalena acts as host several nights a week at Cafe Renzo on University Ave. He is lively and wonderful as ever!

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