Celebrating 20 Years in Downtown Napa Ristorante Allegria
By Craig Smith
Ristorante Allegria celebrates their 20th year in business this year, a milestone not many make. They got one of the best presents a business could get – in March, the Napa Chamber of Commerce named Allegria the Small Business of the Year for 2021, honoring them at the Chamber’s Annual Luncheon. The prepared video accompanying the honor included a half dozen downtown restaurant owners speaking not only to the quality of the restaurant, but to the character of Baris Yildiz, who owns the business with his brother Rodi. Baris called winning the award a humbling experience, one he treasures. He loves the restaurant business, and can’t imagine doing anything else. That wasn’t always the case.
Shortly after coming to America from a small village near Kurdistan, a young Baris and Rodi went to work as busboys in their uncle’s restaurant. Neither of the boys spoke English, and every customer encounter was confusing and a little frightening. “Always say ‘yes’ to the customer,” his uncle told Baris, so he did. Once, when a patron asked for butter, Baris confidently said, “yes,” having no idea what he had been asked. It was only later, when Baris’s uncle asked him why he didn’t take the man his butter, did Baris understand what had happened. After a couple of weeks, he wanted to leave the restaurant and go into construction.
Fortunately, Baris isn’t afraid of a challenge and decided not to change jobs. He spent a year and a half learning English, and the more he learned, the more he liked the restaurant business. After a year at his uncle’s, Baris moved on to work at a French restaurant. He took business classes at Canada and Foothill colleges, focusing on restaurant and hotel management. He joined the Kimpton Restaurant and Hotel group out of San Francisco for six years.
Baris is also a very good soccer player and made his first trip to Napa for a tournament. During the game, he broke his leg, and couldn’t walk for six months. While recovering from his injury, he and Rodi talked about opening their own restaurant. Baris’s impression of Napa was positive – a small town, unlike LA or San Francisco, with lots of fields and mountains, much like his native country. The brothers decided to look for a place in Napa, and found the former bank building at 1026 First Street, next to Dwight Murray Plaza. Lease negotiations took six months, followed by a year of construction. The menu was never a question – the brothers know Northern Italian food inside and out. They opened on July 19, 2002. “It was a Chefs Market Friday, and we were packed that first night,” said Baris. “Many of the diners from that first night became regulars.”
This is a long way from where and how Baris grew up. “People talk about growing up with nothing? We had nothing.” “Nothing” means no running water, electricity or any kind of stability. “When I was fifteen, my father said, ‘You are going to America tomorrow.’ I didn’t even know where America was.” After an eighteen-hour bus ride to the airport in Istanbul, Baris tried to hide so he would miss his flight, but his dad made sure he got on the plane. Once here, he moved to San Mateo and lived with ten people in a three-bedroom apartment. It was there that he went to work for his uncle. He didn’t see the rest of his family for five years.
His experiences growing up informed how he has lived his life, both professionally and personally. He treats his staff like family, “We have guys in the kitchen who have been with us since day one. Our chefs even helped us paint the place.” If an employee or family member needs help, they get it, whether its for business or personal reasons. His mom taught he and Rodi what was and wasn’t important in life. “’Never let money come between you guys,’ she told us over and over. If you work here, you’re part of the Allegria (which means ‘Happiness’ in Italian) family.”
Although he loves the restaurant business, he’s not sure he would advise his kids to do it. “The restaurant business is like a baby – anything can happen at any time if you don’t watch it. It’s a stressful job. But if you love it like I do, there’s nothing else like it.” Giving credit where it’s due, he added, “Having a brother like Rodi as a partner has been priceless.”
For five years, Baris, which means “Peace,” joined a “Teach Peace” effort. He traveled to refuge camps and tried to help kids get out of terrorist groups. “The kids had to trust you, and we put in all that time to get them to trust us.” He felt like it was the least he could do. “This country has given me everything I wanted. If you can’t make it here, you probably can’t make it anywhere. This country is a land of opportunities.”
1026 1st St, Napa | 707-254-8006 | ristoranteallegria.com
Open Seven Days A Week for Lunch and Dinner