Plate of seafood at Servino restaurant.

Servino's menu is influenced by the restaurant’s seaside location.

Family Values Span Decades at Italian Mainstay Servino

Old world charm blends with next generation vision at this Italian waterfront eatery in northern California.

It began like many Italian romances. Angelo Servino, an Italian from the southern town of Acri, was studying agriculture in Florence, when he met and married an American artist, Kathryn Riessen. According to Natale Servino, manager of Servino Ristorante in Tiburon, California, and son of Angelo and Kathryn, his parents moved from Italy to San Francisco in the 1970s where his father found a job cooking in a nearby Tiburon trattoria.

“My father was working there for only a short time when the owner told him he was going to sell the restaurant,” Servino says. “My parents quickly put their heads together to figure out how they could keep the restaurant running and do it themselves. It happened quickly and fortuitously.” That was in 1978.

“They used to drive to San Francisco in their Volkswagon Bug and shop for produce to bring back,” he adds. “They occupied that space for the next 21 years, building a reputation in the community as the familiar neighborhood Italian restaurant where people would dine several times per week.”

In 1999, a similar opportunity arose, Servino says. “There was a waterfront restaurant vacating a much larger space,” he notes. “Again, my parents had to make a very quick decision if they wanted to make a proposal to move, and they did. We’ve been in that second location ever since.”

Just a five-minute walk from Servino’s original location, he says moving the restaurant to the waterfront offered the family an opportunity to retain their existing clientele while potentially adding new guests. “The original location was tucked back at the end of town and this one sits right on Main Street and on the waterfront,” Servino says. “There’s much more exposure and we have the benefit of having an embedded local clientele along with the added benefit of being near the ferry traffic and visitor traffic. So, it’s really the best of both worlds.”


Moving the restaurant to the waterfront offered Servino an opportunity to retain its existing clientele while potentially adding new guests.

Passing the torch

While Angelo and Kathryn are still managing partners, Natale runs the day-to-day operations of the restaurant as the general manager, along with his younger brother Vittorio.

“In family businesses, there often is not that defined time of, ‘OK, now this is yours,’” Servino says. “Because I was born into it, there’s definitely been a generational shift, where the business is more in the hands of myself and my brother and we’re the curators of Servino for the next generation.”

He says he tries to keep a delicate balance between the old-world charm and modern features. “There’s a tremendous benefit to having people on board who can bring old-world knowledge, consistency and authenticity along with new ideas and cutting-edge trends,” Servino adds. “But I’m always trying to keep that balance.” More than anything, Servino wants the customers who have been visiting the restaurant since its beginning to recognize the brand when they walk in.

Classic and seasonal menus

“There are people who have grown up on the dishes we serve,” Servino says. “So, the menu balances classic, authentically Italian dishes with fresh ingredients.”

Being in northern California, Servino says, the location shares a similar climate to northern Italy, helping to ensure year-round access to fresh ingredients. “We have a menu that changes seasonally, and, we’re able to incorporate local, seasonal, organic products and prepare them in a way we would have back home in southern Italy, where my father is from.”

The menu is influenced by the restaurant’s seaside location as well. “We’ve incorporated a strong sustainable seafood program, taking advantage of local availability,” Servino says. “Since moving to the waterfront, seafood started to take a more predominant place on our menu. It just makes sense to have local sardines or local calamari with crisp, white wine on the patio.”

Charity Epperson

What began as a family business in 1978 carries on today at Servino.

An all-occasion restaurant

Menus for lunch, dinner and brunch at Servino offer a bit of something for everyone, whether it’s a snacking charcuterie plate, casual offerings such as pizzas or a burger, or an elegant meal like house made pasta or vitello ai funghi, a pounded and seared bone-in veal chop with porcini and cannellini beans. The wood-burning oven does double duty, creating thin-crust pizzas as well as featured appetizers and main dishes, such as whole branzino and lasagna.

“We’ve created an atmosphere where guests can feel comfortable coming straight from the ferry for a pizza and wine or to celebrate a special anniversary over wine and a four-course meal,” Servino says. “Tiburon is still considered a small town. Guests walk in and can see we’re a family place—whether they see a family member greeting guests or notice that clients come in who are recognized by staff. The atmosphere is one of an Italian family dining room.”

Wine menus at Servino focus on Californian and Italian wines, with those from Italy broken down on the menu into the North, Central and South regions. Servino says that the family’s interest in wine has grown exponentially over the years. “I could see a wine venture in the future,” he says. “As we become more involved, I think an expansion with a heavier focus on wine and Italian food could be something we’re thinking about.”

A Place to Celebrate

Birthdays, corporate events and 20 to 30 weddings and rehearsal dinners take place every year in Servino’s second floor Bellavista Room. The private event space, featuring its own outdoor deck and bar, can hold 70 for weddings, up to 130 seated, or 200 standing.

Servino says monthly restaurant events became a part of the upstairs event space a little over a decade ago. “We were approached by a gentleman running an opera company up and down the west coast,” he says. “An event was created where, with his artistic direction and piano accompaniment, two opera singers sing between each of the four courses with menu pairings.” On New Year’s Eve, Servino will celebrate its 122nd Opera Night. “We set up long family-style tables and limit ticket sales to 40 to 60 attendees,” says Servino. “Some of our guests attend Opera Night every month.”

With the success of Opera Night, a new event has been added to the line-up. From the Cellar is an educational dinner event. “We focus on a specific region and educate guests about the culinary and wine-making history of a region through a four-course meal highlighting the food and wine from that region,” Servino says.

Sharing family values

What began as a family business in 1978 carries on today in many ways because of the family connection shared between management and staff, according to Servino. “We have been so fortunate to have a staff that feels like they’re part of the family,” he says. “We couldn’t do anything we want to do without that cohesion with the staff. Some of them have been with us for almost 40 years. I can’t give enough credit to that type of longevity in terms of it attributing to our success.”

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