Vasco owner Paul Lazzareschi is at peace.
Over the past 23 years, he’s owned and operated the much-loved Vasco restaurant, and done so in inimitable fashion, personally greeting every patron when they walked through the door, hopping behind the bar, checking in on old friends and new guests as they dined – the kind of small-town warmth that goes way beyond a fantastic meal.
He did the same as co-owner of the renowned Bardelli’s restaurant in San Francisco for 18 years prior to that.
It was clear to just about every patron that Lazzareschi was, as they say, in his element
But for significant parts of the past six years, long before the arrival of the COVID-19 crisis, Lazzareschi was also managing a too-full plate.
A group of investors headed by Lazzareschi bought the Depot Cafe & Bookstore business, which is located within the City of Mill Valley-owned building at the heart of downtown, in April 2016 from the family of the late Mary Turnbull.
Over the next five years, Lazzareschi and his investors were on a rollercoaster ride of submitting plans to modernize an aging building, fending off attempts to halt the renovation, closing the cafe in March 2019, garnering momentum in late 2019, getting back on track after a work stoppage due to Covid policies, constructing a new, much-needed public bathroom and feeling plenty of love from the community before re-opening in January 2021, with a gorgeous new bookstore.
As Lazzareschi celebrated the re-opening and enjoyed the deep, broad support from a team of investors that included Mark Martini, Pam and Rich Carlomagno, Rich Patterson, Ridge Samson, Gary Rulli and Dan and Katy Leese, the latter of whom manages the bookstore.
“How cool it is that we have this mix of people with all these really cool, different skills and abilities they bring to the group,” Lazzareschi says.
We’re at a great place now with the Depot,” he adds, particularly with chef Oscar Tamela and his team running the kitchen.
But while there was plenty of turbulence prior to the Depot’s re-opening, Lazzareschi says he’s been thinking about selling Vasco for a bit. “It’s been a great run – I was ready,” he says. “I was trying to run a very reasonably priced family space, and even before Covid it became apparent that I was going to have to raise prices and enter a niche that I didn’t want to, I’d have to do huge volume to keep up. I didn’t want to do that.”
He also had a moment of clarity that he’d been juggling both Vasco and the Depot for five years.
“I see the Depot as my future,” he says, noting his ability to lean on his investors and staff and not take on the burden of managing so much of the day-to-day minutiae as he had in the past.
Lazzareschi has known Piazza D’Angelo co-founders Domenico and Paolo Petrone for many years, as well as their respective children Felicia Ferguson and Luigi Petrone, who took over the business from their parents in 2017.
Having successfully spearheaded the restaurant they inherited for the past five years, Petrone and Ferguson were looking for something new they could put their imprint on – something that added to the array of options in town. Their new concept for the former Vasco space is Coho, a sustainable seafood-focused restaurant named after the salmon that’s indigenous to our region.
“We wanted to fill a void in the community,” Ferguson says. “Paul created a great restaurant over the past 23 years, and we hope to build on that success and create something new for the community, something that we did not inherit. There was no good sustainable seafood restaurant in town and we wanted to really speak to that. We look forward to providing another dining establishment in this amazing community.”
When Coho opens in the spring, Petrone and Ferguson hope to serve up an array of sustainable fish, particularly whole fish. “Nothing wasted,” Ferguson says. “We’re excited to find a chef that envisions that too and speaks to the ingredients.”