A new prix fixe-only restaurant is heading to Oakland’s Lake Merritt neighborhood this summer. But, instead of tiny bites and intimidatingly upscale ingredients, the three-course menu will be focused on homey hospitality from two hospitality industry vets.
The new restaurant, Mama, will take over the restaurant space at 388 Grand Avenue, offering a three-course meal of Italian-American fare for $29. It’s from the owners of neighboring wine shop Bay Grape, Stevie Stacionis and Josiah Baldivino, both of whom are certified sommeliers. (Stacionis is also a founder of Batonnage, a conference highlighting women in wine.)
Mama will take over the restaurant space from Contrasto, the upscale Roman concept from chef Alessandro Campitelli (Chiaroscuro), who is moving to a new location later this spring. And though it will also serve Italian food, Mama will be quite different, says Stacionis.
“I don’t consider this restaurant chef-driven, I consider it hospitality-driven and quality- ingredient driven,” Stacionis told Eater SF. “My first priority is to serve the neighborhood, making a place that you can go to regularly.”
Stacionis and Baldivino are currently hiring a chef position, one they hope to fill with somebody interested in mentorship and in working with them to create a job development training program for inexperienced back and front of the house staff.
“One small part of the reason that the menu is so concise is that we want a chef who is excited about mentoring and cultivating new talent,” says Stacionis. “In terms of cuisine it’s quite straightforward.
That straightforward cuisine is directly inspired by Stacionis’ Italian grandmother (Abruzzese to be exact), known as both Maria “Mama” Stacionis and as the consummate host in her family. Like the suppers she prepared for large groups of family and friends, the menu will begin with a soup or salad, followed by choice of two pastas ( vegetarian or “Mama’s sugo”), and choice of gelato and biscotti or a seasonal dessert. It’ll serve supper seven days a week.
The wine list from Baldivino will be an extension of the ethos of the couple’s wine shop, designed to give diner’s accessible options from a variety of wine regions. It’ll be a concise list, with drawings and clever wording to guide diners along their own wine journey, without the stress.
The 40-seat space will also channel Mama’s home by displaying actual decor from her home in Illinois. Local artist Sarah Owen, who also gave Bay Grape its look, will work to recreate the vibes of Stacionis’ grandmother and great grandmother’s house during her childhood.
“I feel hugely honored to be able to take some of that and share it,” says Stacionis. “Honestly Mama is the reason I got into the hospitality business — I am a mini version of her — so this is really an opportunity to make her memory live on. I’m very excited.”
Stay tuned for more details, and expect a summer opening.