Above: The Zingari team with Neeraj Miglani (far left) and Krishan Miglani (second from right)
Neeraj Miglani, the Director at Zingari Ristorante in San Francisco, grew up in and around restaurants. “The Miglani family are innkeepers, so we want to deliver comfort and culture. I’ve worked in hotels and restaurants my whole career,” says Neeraj.
Fittingly, though Zingari Ristorante is an independent family-run restaurant, they are also the food and beverage operation of Hotel Donatello. They have been there since 1997 and also oversee in-room dining and banquet spaces in the hotel where they organize functions and private events.
Neeraj’s father, Krishan Miglani, has a background in hotels and restaurants. “He used to be the food and beverage director at the Saint Frances Hotel here in San Francisco,” says Neeraj. “My family enjoys sharing our love of food. In addition to being committed to my team and my guests, I always want to convey the culture that we’re delivering and sharing. Part of that is Italian fare.”
“All the pasta is hand-made, it’s one of our bragging rights. In addition to grilled meats and fish on Open Table, guests noticed our menu highlighting our vegan options. So, word got around. We do make vegan pasta and have a few fun dishes. We share the wishes of our guests, because they are our community,” Neeraj explains.
Zingari’s mission reflects this mix of cultural pride and welcoming warmth. Zingari, which means gypsies in Italian, is meant to be a culinary celebration of a vibrant people. Also known for their extraordinary Jazz bar, Zingari blends cosmopolitan, soulful, and cozy vibes.
“When you come in and dine, you’ll see on our menu that it says no phone calls, unplug,” says Neeraj, clearly proud of this special space.
After working in other high-profile hospitality outfits, Neeraj was drawn back to the Bay Area. He had been helping his family run Zingari for four years when the coronavirus pandemic hit. The Miglani’s caring instincts kicked in, even with a city-wide shut down and no tourists flying in to stay at the hotel.
“It’s unprecedented and devastating for many people who have lost loved ones,” is Neeraj’s first thought. On the restaurant side, he’s candid, “It sucked, we got super nervous. We have 19 families that we work with, many heads of their household, so it was a big ripple effect. But we understand that people have to be healthy and we do our part. We hope that the government does its part to take care of people too. We paid out sick days, kept insurance intact, it was the least we could do. We had honest conversations with our team. It’s an open dialogue.”
Zingari is no stranger to helping people in hard times. They are supporters of the CHEFS Program, which through the Episcopal Community Services of San Francisco is a culinary training program for homeless people in the city. Students are provided with classroom instruction, in-kitchen hands-on training, and internships at a local restaurant or kitchen.
After a scary shut down, which they survived by sticking together, the Zingari team is moving forward with intention. “We’re super lean. In terms of operation, everyone is doing everything. We used to have a menu for all, with like forty items. Now we’re at twenty-five items and going smaller. We don’t want to have waste,” explains Neeraj.
Despite the difficult times, Neeraj remains optimistic, sharing part of the restaurant’s inspiration, “The Zingari people remind us to be open to discovery and new delights.”
“We recently opened outdoor dining on the rooftop,” he adds. “It used to be an amenity for hotel guests, a private space where we did pop-up events and parties. Now we’ve converted it, so it feels like you’re on a rooftop in Rome when you dine.”
With this egalitarian spirit, Zingari’s rooftop is no longer open just for hotel guests; reservations can be made by anyone through Open Table. Zingari also hopes to continue its live Jazz nights soon, which will give patrons a pleasant escape through music and recall the more pleasing melodies of life.