Granata family to sell Italian restaurant

By Henry Veneracion

DOWNEY - After 58 years of continuous operations with owner Ralph Granata, then son Paul, at the helm, Granata's Italian Restaurant is changing hands.The transfer funds are now in escrow, and the takeover of the business' assets (stock in trade, fixtures and equipment, trade name, and that immeasurable yet real and precious thing called goodwill) takes place as soon as the new ownership obtains its liquor license. It's expected to be issued any time now. The buyer is Few & Sons Enterprises, Co. of Downey, whose president, Frank E. White, has resided here for at least nine years. He brings to his new acquisition an impressive business and management background. Heretofore a major player in the U.S. Hispanic music industry, this is his first venture in the restaurant business. His lack of a track record in the restaurant industry does not faze him, however. He says a brother-in-law, Guillermo Cepero, who has just arrived from Cuba, has 20 years of solid experience with Italian, Spanish and Cuban cuisine, and will manage the restaurant. "He's a very strong manager," Frank said. Moreover, he says the other people around him know what they're doing. (His wife, for example, who has begun decorating the place, will handle accounting, billing and financing.) "In the meantime, we've been buying new plates and silverware-no more plastic cups," he said. The two parties chose to be mum about the exact terms of sale. However, the required bulk sales notice that recently ran in this paper contains the stipulated purchase price of $250,000 - broken down into $30,000 in cash and a promissory note of $220,000. The deal does not include the land and the building located at 11032 Downey Ave., long a familiar landmark and destination of choice among premium Italian cuisine lovers. Ralph Granata cites advancing age (he just turned 82) as a main reason for his decision to sell the business. Another strong factor is a desire to enjoy greater peace of mind. At this point in his life, he says his energies will find better employment in sorting out inheritance, etc., matters among his three children; the sooner he resolves these, the sooner he can fully savor his annual visits to his hometown of Gaeta, Italy, where he basks in the warm and unconditional welcome of kinfolk and childhood friends. Frank White says the music and artist management business has seen a contraction recently, so he started to look around for other viable business opportunities. Having his brother-in-law in the equation made him seriously consider the restaurant business. A U.S. Air Force brat, he was born in Minah, North Dakota and raised in Madrid, Spain. Armed with a degree in business administration from El Escorial in La Salle, Spain, Frank has had a very successful run in the musical talent management business, after a priceless seven-year tour of duty in sales and marketing at Coca-Cola. But now he says it's time to take a new tack. His future plans for Granata's include a change of name, to Granata's Restaurant & Tapas Bar (Fine Italian Cuisine & Spanish Tapas). One of his keen marketing credos is the efficacy of 'branding'. New features he will introduce at Granata's include an expanded menu (he says he has traveled extensively and has eaten at the best restaurants in the world), and assorted musical presentations on weekends to rev up the place. Thus, in addition to what old Granata's has offered over these years, Frank especially mentioned two new tapas items he's sure to offer: (hot) Tortillas Espanola, with Spanish potato omelet with onions, and Patata a la Brava, with Grilled Spicy Potatoes; and (cold) Tablado Espanol, with assorted Spanish cold cuts and Spanish chorizos and morcilla; and Boquerones a la Vinagrete, with sliced anchovie fillets cured in house vinaigrette dressing. Prior to entering into negotiations with Granata's, Frank says he was already considering buying a Cuban restaurant in Corona, as well as looking at another one in Glendale. But as fate would have it, "I settled on Granata's. I love the location, plus I believe the name has a certain value. Because of this I'm keeping the name and just adding 'Tapas'", he said. Ralph Granata first came to this country in 1947 and worked for a while with an uncle in a rural town in Maine. Then he worked in Boston for a while. Enlisting in the Army, he served as cook for two years during the Korean War. After his discharge, he went back to Boston, decided the weather was too cold, and moved here to Downey. He said there was only one steakhouse here when he arrived; he worked there for two years. Then in 1954, he opened his own Italian steakhouse on Paramount Boulevard. Soon he was seating 60 people. Moving to Florence Avenue, he first started seating 60-65 people. Pretty soon, "I had 120 people at a time, so I added another room. We worked our butts off all those years," Ralph said. Then the move to Downey Avenue, whereupon Ralph turned over the management function to son Paul. Frank's plans for the place include adding special touches here and there. He's taking out the carpet and replacing it with "acid wash flooring with clear coat." One of Ralph's two major pieces of advice to Frank is: he has to get city hall approval for any substantive renovation he contemplates. The chief thrust of all this renovation and improvement is, of course, to attract and earn the loyalty of customers. Frank says he wants the place to be a place where people will have a fine dining experience, where they will have a good time, "with good ambiance." He says he has studied and analyzed all the ramifications of the business, and the costing, supply availability and sources, staff training, budgeting and promotional strategies, and other considerations have all found their way into a comprehensive business plan-with the ultimate goal of providing patrons with the optimum level of dining experience. "If I were younger," Ralph sighed, "I wouldn't give this up. I'm glad, though, that the next owners seem very capable and very determined to make a success of this venture. If they succeed, everybody will be happy. Ralph went on: "Frank is a guy who listened intently to what I had to say about the business. I like that. He's a good listener. To assist him at the start, I offered to accompany him to where I buy my fish and seafood, and things like that. I told him I'll be around to introduce him to my old patrons, and so on." "I spent my whole life working hard to make sure the business thrives. In the process, a lot of goodwill has been generated, along with mutual respect and patrons' loyalties. I told myself early on never to serve anything I myself wouldn't eat. I never cheated on the quality and quantity of the dishes we served. This I emphasized to Frank. And he was listening. The other bit of practical advice I gave him was retain the present staff. They know the customers well and know their preferences, and so on. I hope he follows my advice." "I plan to have a soft opening towards the end of September," Frank said. "Hopefully we can formally open on Oct. 1."

********** Published: September 08, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 21