Growing up in Italy’s Highlands, Giuseppe Terminiello fell in love with food from a young age. Over 30 years ago, his family owned a restaurant in the island town of Capri, where his chef grandmother controlled the kitchen with unmatched pride and second-to-none swagger. She treated customers like family, not just because it was good for business, but because it was all they knew.
“You don’t have too many choices,” said Terminiello. “90 percent of people leaving the island, they go up with the train. So I choose to work in the restaurant business.”
Despite being in a country as synonymous with food as Italy is, Terminiello remained relentless. He was eager to expand his worldview without sacrificing what he learned from his family. And after forging a surreal career path blazing through places like the U.K., Bermuda Islands, and Canada, Terminiello settled in San Francisco and eventually founded his current restaurant, Piccolo Forno.
Located off Columbus Ave. in Russian Hill, Piccolo Forno sports a fresh and modern look that juxtaposes the classic Capri restaurant Terminiello grew up with. Durable cherry red chairs replace dark wooden seats as dining area lights shine bright. Italian words and phrases in white are slapped on one of the walls. Yet through its meals, it captures the same essence of home, packing a level of quality that keeps customers coming back for seconds.
Of course, the menu offers popular Italian dishes – like fettucini alfredo and lasagna – that Americans love. But it also allows customers to try less common items in Italian-American dining, widening their taste pallets in an already-popular cuisine. Bucatini and Gnocchi add depth to the pasta menu, and arugula and bresaola make the salad menu exciting. And the pizza hardly ever becomes an afterthought since numerous fresh pies are always on display. The Capriccosa pizza rings home for ownership, and the Margherita is a fan favorite.
Seemingly every San Francisco restaurant has suffered due to COVID-19. And Piccolo Forno has recently seen its establishment go from a sit-down Italian spot to a business more dependent on delivery than ever.
“80 percent of the business was all delivery,” said Terminiello when discussing recent sales. “Without the support of the customer, the people, I don’t go anywhere. So I always open up business.”
What’s most intriguing about the drastic shift in this consumer trend is the fact it has also impacted the demographics of Piccolo Forno’s in-store customers. Giuseppe claims younger customers are the only ones eating inside and picking up.
“The youngest people, they like to go out, they go to have drinks. But the older generation…they feel a little bit more high risk,” said Terminiello. “It’s very rare to see them.”
Baby Boomers – or just Boomers – are not visiting his store as often as the pandemic has taken over. Since COVID-19 reportedly leaves older generations in greater peril, Boomers have been more hesitant to visit public spaces. And they are not ordering often via delivery services like UberEats and DoorDash, leaving some questions unanswered about when or if they will return to restaurants like Piccolo Forno.
Even though Giuseppe yearns to serve as many people as he possibly can, he’s not letting the inconvenience ruin his spirits.
“I think now is a tough time for everyone. From the landlords to the rents for all restaurants, to the properties for the apartments,” said Terminiello.
“The other things, we need to be smart, we need to be together. San Francisco is a great city…we handle this situation very, very, very good. Thank you to everyone for supporting all the restaurants.”