Frantoio is closing on Feb. 16, as staffers were informed this week that the restaurant’s lease wasn’t being continued after the latest in a series of sales of the Holiday Inn Express with which it shares a building at 152 Shoreline Highway.
“It’s extremely bittersweet,” Calkins says. “The outpouring of support has been amazing. We’re booked solid. We’re doing what we can to put our best foot forward and go out with our heads held high. And then we’ll try to figure out what’s next, as so many of our employees have been here forever.”
Calkins says some 34 employees will lose their jobs, including longtime wine director Susan Zappa and waiter Jamshid “Zorro” Abianeh, both of whom have been at the restaurant for 23 years, as well as bartender Jason James, who’s been there for 17 years.
Frantoio (the Italian word for olive press) opened in August 1995 near the entrance to Tam Valley, touting the fact that it was the only restaurant in the United States with a state-of-the-art certified organic olive oil production facility on site. According to the San Francisco Examiner, it was quite the spectacle at the time: “Right now you can witness the sexiest culinary rite of passage in the Mediterranean world just across the Bay in Mill Valley,” wrote Patricia Unterman. “At Frantoio, a bustling new restaurant on the order of Il Fornaio, locally harvested green and black olives are transformed into precious extra virgin oil by a state-of-the-art olive oil press located behind a window at one end of the dining room. At lunch you can observe the whole process and taste the results. Excitement at Frantoio during its first pressing season is running high. People from all over Northern California are bringing in olives they never bothered to harvest before – manzanillo, sevillano, picholine, mission – to see what kind of oil they will make.”
Located with a huge, 6,000-square-foot space designed by star architect Cass Calder Smith, the restaurant has long been home to big events, regularly hosting star-studded galas as part of the Mill Valley Film Festival. For many of those years, chef Duilio Valenti ran the kitchen before he left to open his own restaurant in San Anselmo in 2014.
Over those many years, Calkins says Frantoio remained stable through a series of hotel ownership changes. In August 2012, a partnership between Argosy Real Estate Partners and Ultima Hospitality bought the 100-room hotel, then called Larkspur Hotel Mill Valley as Larkspur Hotels and Restaurants had bought the roughly 60,000-square-foot property in 2007 and embarking on a $3 million of the property. When Ultimate/Argosy bought the hotel in 2012, they rebranded it back to a Holiday Inn Express. They sold it in 2005 to Terrapin Investments & Management.
The 411: Frantoio Ristorante closes on Feb. 16. Stay tuned for the next chapter of that space.