For more than 15 years, the family-run Baonecci Ristorante served up a selection of Italian favorites, including a cracker-thin Margarita pizza, from its quaint 516 Green St. location in North Beach.
But after weathering some of the worst of the pandemic, the Italian restaurant owned by the Gambaccini family closed down last September, leaving scores of customers with a vacant storefront where their go-to neighborhood spot used to sit.
Mirroring a Bay Area migration undertaken by residents and Fortune 500 corporations alike, Baonecci—and the family behind it—has moved to Texas. The new location is set to open in mid-April in Frisco, a suburban city of around 200,000 people north of Dallas. The restaurant's planned opening was first reported by CultureMap Dallas.
The Gambaccinis moved to San Francisco from the Italian city of Lucca back in 2005 to take over what was then called Danilo Bakery, drawn to the city by the dream of entrepreneurship far from the gridlocked bureaucracy they encountered in their home country.
Eventually, they transformed the business into a full-service restaurant with homey touches resembling a Tuscan trattoria, while introducing diners to some Italian classic dishes like bresaola carpaccio, a salad of cured beef, arugula and parmesan shavings.
“When we moved it was a game-changer compared with owning a business in Italy. It was amazing how easy it was to deal with the laws and the licensing,” Elia Gambaccini, who owns and operates the restaurant with his brother Filippo and their parents, Walter and Stefania.
Over the years, however, the family started to see more of the bureaucratic hurdles in San Francisco they thought they’d left behind.
Elia pointed to their effort to open up a full bar in the North Beach restaurant as an example. In San Francisco, the process included a two-year wait and a $100,000 price tag. In Frisco, the license only cost $10,000 and is already in hand.
Covid cut the restaurant’s business by more than 60%, Elia said. That, combined with a major rent hike forced their hand. After failing to sell the restaurant at a reasonable price, they heard from a few regular customers from Texas who offered to put them in touch with contacts in the Lone Star State.
“That restaurant was everything for us, it’s almost like it was our baby,” Elia said. “On the last night we had our local customers and, of course, they stayed there until after midnight, talking and crying.”
One month after closing the doors to their restaurant, the entire family packed up and moved. Among the souvenirs that they took with them was a painting created by artist Jeremy Fish for the 2014 film Big Eyes which featured their North Beach location.
“I wish I could take the walls too,” Elia said, specifically saying he will miss the distinct neighborhoods that make up San Francisco's unique identity.
While they’ve experienced some growing pains in their new home—like a snow storm that functioned as a rude introduction to Texas weather patterns—Elia said his family has found a booming economy and a community of other Italians to share meals and soccer games with.
Then, there’s the economic calculation. Elia said he and his partner are finally able to purchase a home in Texas, a dream which had previously been out of reach in San Francisco.
With the abrupt move, the Gambaccinis weren’t able to say farewell to all of their patrons. Elia said the family is working on a letter that will be sent to their customers to thank them for being part of their family for the last 16 years and welcoming them to their adopted home with love and appreciation.
“They're also all welcome to come through to Texas for their vacation,” he said with a laugh.
Kevin Truong can be reached at [email protected]