Alexis Solomou knows a thing or two about the importance of community. His restaurant, Seven Hills, has been a beacon in the neighborhood for a decade. The restaurant, located in the Russian Hill area, is well known to residents and visitors alike for its cozy setting and fine Italian fare.
Solomou comes from a leadership background; his grandfather had a restaurant, and his father manages a Greek dining establishment. After emigrating to America from England in 2001, he dove into the industry. For a while, Solomou moved between different roles: waiter, bartender, and eventually a manager. Then it was time to make a choice.
The Lure of Russian Hill
“It gets to a point in your life where you have to make big decisions. To stay in America and make it my home was a huge decision,” Solomou says. Opening the restaurant of his dreams followed soon after. “I decided to invest everything I had into opening Seven Hills.” He loved the Russian Hill neighborhood and knew deep down that it would be the location for his restaurant. He waited 18 months for just the right site to become available, and in 2010, he made his move. Things progressed slowly at first, but Seven Hills soon became a trusted culinary fixture in the neighborhood.
Solomou credits Executive Chef Anthony Florian – “Chef Tony” – for much of the restaurant’s success. Utilizing a farm-to-table approach, garnering ingredients from many local farms, ranches, and creameries; Chef Tony creates unique and delicious Italian dishes. The food, the atmosphere, the staff, and Solomou himself are what bring customers back again and again.
The Russian Hill neighborhood is what drew him in then, and what continues to amaze him today. In December 2019, Seven Hills moved into a larger space, just three blocks away from the original location. Much of the loyal customer base in the neighborhood remains. As Solomou says, “I would be nothing without my neighbors. They have defined my growth and continue to support me.”
Adapting to Adversity
The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the restaurant industry, sparing few, and Seven Hills is no exception. As soon as the epidemic worsened and stay-at-home orders began to be implemented, Solomou made the tough choice to close normal operations, to help stop the spread of the virus. He was heartbroken, but had no choice but to lay off the bulk of his employees – 33 team members, whom he refers to as “family.”
Like many others, the restaurant has converted to take-out only. Dinner has been available to go, Wednesdays through Sundays, with a limited lunch takeout menu to come soon.
Seven Hills has been able to handle to-go orders very efficiently, with a window near the entrance that now serves as a perfect takeout station. The interior space is stacked with takeout boxes, ready to serve its loyal customers. Considering that the original Seven Hills location (it recently moved into a new, larger site) did not provide takeout service as it does today, Solomou and company have done a remarkable job adapting to this sudden change.
Without his chefs, he insists, “We would be in complete disarray.” Chef Tony, especially, has used his creativity to help keep Seven Hills running as smoothly as possible during this pandemic. He has created a “pantry” for customers to select from, to create dishes in their homes. The Seven Hills pantry offers an organic whole wheat variety of pasta, made on site. Additionally, customers can choose from different pasta varieties, Bolognese sauce, peeled garlic, pancetta, prosciutto, walnuts, dried beans, parmesan, and even milk and eggs.
The hardest part for Solomou has been his disconnect from the neighborhood and his staff. He worries about the future of restaurants like his, especially with the effects of social distancing and having to wear masks. People – his workers, neighbors, friends, and customers- are the lifeblood of Seven Hills. Face-to-face interactions that are such an integral part of the restaurant may not be a reality for a while.
Yet he believes fully in the community. Every week, he hears from regulars, who ask, “What can we do? How can we help?” They buy gift cards for the restaurant, contribute to Seven Hills’ GoFundMe page for its workers, and thank Solomou for his years of contributions to the neighborhood. One loyal customer even drives up from Los Altos twice a week for Seven Hills takeout!
When asked what message Solomou would relay to his customers during this challenging time, he replied, “First of all, thank you!” adding, “We can all get through this together. We will be stronger.” With the unwavering support of its neighbors, customers, and friends, it is safe to say that when this pandemic passes, Seven Hills will be ready to welcome them all home.