For over 40 years, Piazza D’Angelo has been the nucleus of downtown Mill Valley’s dining and social scene. Restaurant owners Paolo and Domenico Petrone — who also own and operate Acqua Hotel, Mill Valley Inn and Water’s Edge — have now passed on the torch to their children Felicia and Luigi. The two cousins recently opened Coho in the old Vasco location. The seafood-centric restaurant has immediately made a splash in Marin and is garnering rave reviews for its California coastal cuisine, sophisticated cocktails and modern design. In honor of Father’s Day, we sat down with the proud dads and their kids to learn more about the secret sauce of the family business.
Tell us about how your restaurant journey started over 40 years ago.
Paolo: We came to Mill Valley and didn’t have any money and we were working as waiters. We decided to remodel the restaurant (Piazza D’Angelo) in the ’90s, and we went from eight employees to 80 employees overnight.
Domenico: Now all of a sudden we were a huge business and we had to adapt to that. We had to hire a good chef, a manager and bring in a computer system. Thankfully, we were able to adapt fast.
What advice did you give your kids before they took over the restaurant?
Paolo: Make sure you love the restaurant business. It’s a hard business. To own a restaurant, you have to be mentally fit and you have to have a passion for it — you have to sacrifice your family life and so forth. What makes a restaurant successful is to be able to greet the customers at the door, assure them that they’ll have a nice experience and let them feel like they’re coming into their own kitchen and dining room.
What are the most valuable business lessons you’ve learned from your dads?
Luigi: Everything I know has been taught by my father and uncle. They were here all the time and our customers noticed that. My biggest take away from them was to treat all our guests like family.
Felicia: They are true examples of living the American dream, they literally created this from the ground-up. Seeing that resilience and the results is so inspirational and has made its way into my work ethic. Our dads created a home for many people and to be able to continue that feeling of hospitality for our long standing customers along with our new customers is really special.
What are your favorite memories growing up and working in your family’s restaurants?
Felicia: When we were old enough to start working it was pretty special to spend more time with my dad and uncle, especially since they were always working so much and we would rarely see them at home. Being able to learn hands-on side by side with them was pretty inspiring.
Luigi: A lot has always revolved around this place such as our birthday celebrations, family dinners, graduations, New Year’s Eve parties and so on. Every Thanksgiving (the one day of the year when Piazza D’Angelo is closed), the staff would have an annual soccer game in the morning and then enjoy food and drinks afterward in the restaurant.
Paolo: We’ve been able to do a lot for the community. We started the Winterfest/tree lighting ceremony in Mill Valley. We funded it ourselves for the first ten years and it’s still going on, which is a good thing.
Felicia: We also continue to sponsor Mill Valley’s annual Comedy in the Plaza (June 15th, 2023).
What is your vision for Coho?
Luigi: We wanted to create a lively and energetic feeling that pairs perfectly with our dishes and cocktails. At the end of the day, it’s all about community and having a good time. We believe Coho is a great place for both.
Paolo: It’s gratifying to see the next generation taking over and continuing our traditions. This new restaurant is a true stamp of their ideas and thoughts, and we think it came out real nice.
What are some of the more memorable customer experiences you’ve had over the years?
Paolo: When we first introduced the risotto forty years ago, people would say, “If I wanted rice, I’d go to a Chinese restaurant.”
Domenico: (laughing) We would serve risotto with porcini, and people would say I don’t want to pay $14 for rice and mushrooms.
Paolo: It took years for people to accept it, but they finally did and now it’s one of our most popular menu items. I also remember when Bernardo Bertolucci came here the night before he won the Oscar for directing The Last Emperor. He raved about our tiramisu and there were like 40 publications that picked up the story. Before too long, everyone was coming in and ordering it.
Would you want your kids to get into the restaurant industry?
Felicia: The beauty of how I felt when I took over the business is that my dad never pushed it upon me, he let me discover it on my own, and so I kind of feel the same way with my daughter. I would never push it on her. If it’s something she was passionate about, I’d support her decision.