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Grazie Café Italiano Slated to Reopen in May with Former Owner at Helm

Renee Norman, who owned the Old Town restaurant from 2004 to 2008, assumes the loan and lease; bistro had closed Jan. 15 under different ownership.

There is a wonderful song by the late Peter Allen, “Everything Old is New Again.” One could say that about the just-clinched deal for Grazie Café Italiano at 823 Grant Ave.

In a far-ranging interview, the owner of the building, David Price Jones, said that a lease has been signed with former restaurant owner Renee Norman. Jones owns the stylish corner building at Sherman and Grant avenues with his wife, Patricia Kay, and former Novato dentist Charles W. Almgren.

Norman has negotiated a deal with to assume the debt for equipment owed by former owner Deborah O’Miela, who . The time remaining on the lease, according to Jones, is five years with two five-year options.

Norman, who owned the 70-seat Grazie from 2004 until she sold it to O’Miela 2008, said, “Everyone from Kim Kaselionis of Circle Bank to David Price Jones worked to make this work and assure it was fair.” 

At this point she has almost all of her original employees back, including her chef, Jose Vargas. More familiar faces will be expected back before she reopens in mid-May.

“We will present the same exact menu, with a couple of new salads, a vegan dish and a gluten-free dish, plus sandwiches which can be ordered in lettuce wraps, instead of bread,” she explains.

Norman will also honor all outstanding gift certificates and will reward the certificate holders with a free dessert.

Jones, an attorney, spoke at length about the history of the site. Around the turn of the century the building housed the Hamilton brothers’ store. Jones says he has a picture of that historic structure hanging in his office.

It was just a lot when he the trio purchased it in the early 1970s. After the building was built, it housed Old Towne Photo and then a Tully’s Coffee shop.

Michelle and Dave Whiteside originally opened Grazie in 2003. Renee Norman, who had been the manager, bought out the Whitesides in 2004. She operated it to much success until she sold in 2008 to Deborah O’Miela.

Some locals think that after O’Miela bought a bar, Spanky’s in Rohnert Park, Grazie took a slide in mid-2010. In January she brought in the furniture and put up a closed sign.

Now both Norman and Grazie will be back — a win-win for Old Town and Novato.

Craig Belfor March 28, 2011 at 06:49 PM
Did the former Grazie workers get paid? We would like to know.
Lloyd March 28, 2011 at 07:03 PM
How wonderful!! It is such a positive step for all the residents that enjoy the restaurant as well as for our beleaguered downtown area. One step at a time.
lisa March 28, 2011 at 08:17 PM
I used to work there I think in 2004 as a server with Renee and she is GREAT, so I am HAPPY for her! -Lisa
Craig Belfor March 28, 2011 at 08:18 PM
Good chance for the old/new owner to get the love back by honoring the other half.
FINNEGAN'S MARIN March 28, 2011 at 08:42 PM
Welcome back Grazie!
Greg Tognotti March 28, 2011 at 09:10 PM
I miss the Gargonzola burger with garlic fries !!!!!!
Christine March 28, 2011 at 10:14 PM
Great news! And terrific that Renee will honor the past gift certificates - well done!
Susan March 29, 2011 at 02:47 AM
It's going to be wonderful!! You go gett'em Renee. Your going to do great this time around just like you did the first time. We've missed Grazie. xoxox
Lee March 30, 2011 at 05:13 PM
All things are now going to be made right again with Rene bringing back the staff, quality of food and customer service that Grazi's excelled in when she last owned the resteraunt. We are looking forward to seeing all of their familiar faces and enjoying the food and amazing atmosphere that she brings to Grazi's.
Danny Skarka April 03, 2011 at 12:56 AM
Work was going on inside the building today!
Craig Belfor April 03, 2011 at 01:07 AM
Work was going on? What work? Wasn't the place closed abruptly? I asked the question at the beginning- did the workers get paid? I'm not saying there's a fishy smell, but the previous owner bought another place up north, sold gift certificates that weren't honored, and closed abruptly. This is known fact. Could there also be unpaid rent, wages, bills? I read that the Renee assumed debt from Circle Bank that the old owner must have had. As Novato's oldest moving company, I see people stripping their homes of stoves, dishwashers, lights, etc., after not paying rent for a year and driving away with the plasma TVs, and the fancy cars they bought with the refinance money. I would like to see if any of the bank financed equipment is up at the new business. I'm sure to be yelled at by everyone by saying this, but I see looting every day.
Christine April 03, 2011 at 01:12 AM
Apples & oranges here Graig!!!
Craig Belfor April 03, 2011 at 01:59 AM
I'll leave the good news, sugar coated cheers to you Cristine, but if anyone out there is actually a news reporter, they would look into this thing. Watergate started out as a simple burglary.
Grazie Cafe April 03, 2011 at 04:22 PM
We are hoping to open in May and we are giving Grazie a fresh coat of paint and sprucing the place up a bit. We look forward to seeing everyone soon. We understand your concerns about the past employees. We are not sure if they were paid by the previous owner - we don't have access to any of that information. We are now under new ownership and would like to hire many of the old employees back. We hope they'll come see us while we're hiring.
Karen April 08, 2011 at 09:36 PM
Looking forward to it re-opening-one of my favorites in Novato! by the way to Craig-there was only one gunman on the grassy knoll
Marie Scully April 15, 2011 at 03:00 PM
Good news! Grazie is one of our favorite places.

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