Angelo D’Alo was just a kid when his parents Giuseppe and Rosa D’Alo moved the family to the Bay Area from Sicily and opened Italian Trattoria La Siciliana 23 years ago in Berkeley’s Elmwood neighborhood. Now general operating partner and head chef with brother Jerry at La Siciliana and the family’s Sicilian-focused restaurant, Agrodolce Osteria in North Berkeley, Angelo and the rest of the D’Alos have decided to close the flagship eatery on College Avenue at the end of September and merge with Agrodolce for the time being. As La Siciliana enters its final month of offering takeout in the Elmwood, the family looks back fondly on the classic restaurant’s tenure in the area.
“When we came to the Elmwood in 1996, there were six restaurants. We were fresh and young.” — Angelo D’Alo
“When we came to the Elmwood in 1996, there were six restaurants [in the neighborhood],” D’Alo recalled. “We were fresh and young.”
In its nascent days, matriarch and chef Rosa tempted customers inside the narrow, two-story restaurant by doling out samples to passersby and posting photos of her specialties — like what would become her bestselling dish, the linguini al pesto — in the window. People were intrigued and enthusiastic that a “Real Italian family” was running the spot.
Trattoria La Siciliana “killed it with a capital K for 17 years,” D’Alo said, but the chef-owner admits the last five years have been hard. Not only is La Siciliana no longer the new hotness on College Avenue, but his parents — who are retired, but still fixtures at both restaurants — are now in their mid-70s. And of course, this year, there’s COVID-19. While the D’Alos don’t blame the pandemic for La Siciliana’s exit, they had new COVID-era regulations in mind when deciding on what would make the most financial and operational sense going forward.
“The place used to make money, but in the new normal, because it’s only 11-feet wide, has an upstairs and no second exit, we can’t do social distancing once dining rooms can reopen. The curb is too small for outdoor dining, the place is too old and beat up,” D’Alo explained. On top of that, the rent “just keeps going up.”
So, instead of scraping together the money to remodel La Siciliana to try to keep it running, the D’Alos are leaving the Elmwood and going all-in — and all in the family — at Agrodolce.
“It’s more of a consolidation than a closure. Because of COVID, having two restaurants in one family… we’ve seen the light. Being together as a family is more important.” Consolidating at Agrodolce was the obvious choice because of its full bar, outdoor seating area, and — once eating indoors can resume — its massive dining room.
Last Thursday, the D’Alos put the last touches on a new 55-foot parklet on Shattuck Avenue in time to seat weekend diners game for eating outside. They took two days to build the wood and concrete structure, but it “looks like it’s going to be there for the next 20 years.” At night, the parklet is lit by more than 400 stringed light bulbs (“You can see my restaurant from space now,” D’Alo said) and on chilly nights, will warm guests with heat lamps. Now having the capacity to seat up to 70 guests outside (up from 25 before the parklet was built), the D’Alos are hopeful the parklet will be a game-changer.
The pandemic has affected Agrodolce in ways the family couldn’t have predicted. After the restaurant converted to takeout on March 20, they noticed their customer base had changed. Before, their “bread and butter” clientele was made up of “ex-professor” types in their late 60s, but “lately, it’s been a lot of young people and cocktail [sales] have gone through the roof,” D’Alo said, crediting the restaurant’s inviting “loungey” dining area. The family has decided to take its relaxed vibe further with the parklet and expanded hours once the two restaurants consolidate. Agrodolce, which is currently only open for dinner, will soon offer lunch and brunch service, late-night eats and a daily happy hour. It will also host live music on weekends.
“It’ll be in the spirit of the Cheese Board — people can listen to music and eat and drink,” D’Alo said.
And while Trattoria La Siciliana is leaving College Avenue after a final service on Sept. 30, it’s not going away for good. Agrodolce will add the trattoria’s most popular dishes on its menu, but eventually, the family plans to reopen La Siciliana at a new space in Berkeley. They aim to find a spot large enough for Rosa to teach cooking classes. Until then, and when it’s safe again, she’ll teach at the roomy Agrodolce dining room.
“My parents are retired, but they work every day. They’ve been in the restaurant business for 50 years.” D’Alo lovingly (and teasingly) added his parents’ presence will continue to be seen and heard at Agrodolce and at the future trattoria. “My mom will make the specials, my dad will yell at people; that’s all he does now.”
Trattoria La Siciliana, 2993 College Ave. (near Webster Street), Berkeley. Open for takeout 4:30-9:30 p.m. through Sept. 30. Agrodolce Osteria, 1730 Shattuck Ave., (near Francisco Street), Berkeley. Open for takeout and outdoor dining 5-9 p.m.