New name, new menu same family

Paul, Joseph, and Domenico Donato.

Donato’s Italian Restaurant was a family owned and operated restaurant in Alpine for more than 40 years. Now, with the grandsons taking over the business, the family restaurant continues, but with a new name, and updated menu, Franca’s Italian Kitchen and Bar.

Domenico Donato said he runs the business together with his brother Joseph and father Paul. Paul Donato is the brother of the two who owned Donato’s.

“My uncles, who I have to give a shout out to because without their stamp throughout the years of what used to be called Donato’s, my uncles Otto and Domenic did a great job for us,” he said. “Restaurants have been in our family since before my dad was born. It has been generations. We have owned many restaurants throughout El Cajon, Alpine, and all-over East County. My grandfather started in the late 60s, early 70s, and it just snowballed from there. My uncle Lenny Blevedere owned Ottavio’s Italian Restaurant in Lakeside. He has run restaurants out of state, in Utah and La Vegas.”

Donato said he and his brother grew up in Ottavio’s for 25 years.

“I grew up playing baseball. My brother was an athlete. He played basketball,” he said. “My brother did hip-hop dancing. Growing up, our parents were always in our world, juggling baseball games and my brother’s dancing. We were never part of their world. It is cool now that my brother and I are experiencing our uncles and our dad’s side of the world with what they grew up with. Restaurants have come and gone over the years. We have had many successes and we have had some failures. The cool thing about the failures is that I got to hear about them and now know what not to do. They are good teaching moments.”

Donato said his family came from Italy, with his uncles born in Canada and right before his father was born, they moved to San Diego and have lived here since. Donato lives in Alpine right next door to the restaurant and his brother lives in Jamul. Domenic Donato went to Valhalla High School and his brother Joseph went to Christian High School.

Donato said Donato’s celebrated its 40th year in March, and after 40 years his uncles were ready to retire.

“We were able to take over,” he said. “It kind of fell in our laps. My dad came to me in February and told us about the opportunity. I had just finished playing baseball about two years ago and my brother had finished high school and started college. For two young kids, I am 26 and my brother is 21, it was the opportunity of a lifetime. To carry on that family tradition, we take a lot of pride in.”

He said they revamped the full bar. Have food runners and a full kitchen staff, and hosts.

“It is full service,” he said. “Come on in with your family. You will have a server come. We have a full menu, and we have pizza. We get that a lot on Sundays. Football is big out here in Alpine, so we do happy hour from 4-6 p.m. They come to the bar and watch Sunday, Monday or Thursday night football. It is cool to see our regular crowd come.”

Donato said it was a no-brainer for them and gave them the ability to give the restaurant some “new life.” “It was cool to come in here and revamp something and give it some new life,” he said. “And still carry on something that they gave us for the past 40 years. Our official takeover date was July 15. We painted some walls and gave it new life and meaning. We wanted to carry on their tradition and create ones on our own. We made some small changes to the menu, and some big changes inside. To watch the transformation was really cool and emotional.”

Donato said the name Franca comes from his grandmother Franchesca.

“Many of our recipes originate from her,” he said. “Much of the things that we make today and that they created their restaurants from come from her. I could not help but name this restaurant for her. She is still around with us today. She has Alzheimer’s but is in good physical shape. She has been able to come here and look at it and see the changes.”

Donato said they are little over three months from coming in and the community has been a huge supporter of their ownership and the changes they made to the restaurant.

“Without them, we are not able to make any of this possible,” he said. “They have been so supportive of us over the past three months and bringing a full crowd in here nearly every night of the week. My brother and I were talking and said we were getting our butts kicked every night but that is a blessing. It has been fun. In the beginning it was a bit stressful, but without my uncle’s first years of spectacular business, it makes me feel like we are doing something right. We take a lot of pride in this.”

Donato said it is all about customer service and how they treat people.

“I take a lot of pride in creating a solid atmosphere. Not only for the customers, but even our employees and staff. We had people who worked with my uncle at Ottavio’s for 20 plus years,” he said. “One of our cooks, Sal, has been with us since the 70s. To me, that speaks volumes in the sense that they love working for us, love the environment. And we love having them. Every day, I come in here and say, ‘What can I do for the person next to me,’ and my brother and dad think the same way. That has been our motto, and our whole family’s motto for the past 50 years.”

Donato said the items on the menu, his dad calls comfort food.

“You go to my grandmother’s house on Sunday, and you sit with her, and the first thing she does is, ‘Are you hungry? Do you want something to eat?’ and the next thing you know you have four or five types of pasta. We try to make the menu traditional in that it is a redbased menu. All the sauces are red based. Obviously, we carry a pesto plate and alfredo plate, but for the most part it is a redbased restaurant. We like to throw the phrase out there that ‘every day is Sunday dinner.’”

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