In recent years, restaurateur Randall Selland and wife Nancy Zimmer have made no secret of their desire to open a Rome-style cafe. But until now, details like the identity of the head chef and the location have been kept close to the vest as the Selland Family Restaurants group went about putting the pieces together.
As we told you on Appetizers last week, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Kelly McCown, once the executive chef at Ella Dining Room & Bar, is leaving his chef role at Goose and Gander in St. Helena to return to Sacramento and rejoin the Selland team.
Now we can tell you more about the restaurant, called OBO Italian. Selland said he is excited about the new concept and about luring McCown back to the company. Initially, another Selland Family chef had been tapped for the job, but he decided to leave town and “pursue a different aspect of his career in the restaurant business,” Selland said. “Kelly wanted to come back and work for us, so we found him a spot.”
Selland added, “Kelly and (Selland co-founder Josh Nelson) have been talking probably since the day he left (two-and-a-half years ago). We’ve always been great friends with him. He just had to go back to Napa and he had something he wanted to prove. He found out that working for our family has been the best experience for him and he decided he wanted to come back.”
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OBO Italian (the actual use of all-capitals has yet to be finalized) will be in the old Andiamo building on Folsom Boulevard in East Sacramento. It was most recently the site of the short-lived Good Eats, which was owned by Raley’s CEO Michael Teel and his wife Julie Rollofson Teel. It closed in 2011.
OBO will have 4,700 square feet and will share the building with another high-profile restaurant, which has yet to be made public. Selland’s new restaurant will have ample outdoor seating and a full bar. For those who still crave a certain famous pasta dish at Ella – the pappardelle pasta with poached egg (a dish created by Zimmer) will find a permanent place on its menu.
There is no specific date set for an opening, but Selland said the family is working once again with the prominent Dutch design firm UXUS, which designed Ella and the new Selland’s Market-Cafe in El Dorado Hills.
“It’s a four-month process from beginning to end,” Selland said.
The hiring of McCown adds another high-profile chef to the Selland arsenal, which already includes Ravin Patel, former Ella executive chef and now head of the group’s culinary program; and David Chavez, the new chef at The Kitchen who worked for the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group at multiple properties over several years. Selland hired Chavez before actually having a suitable position for him. It’s all part of the vision, Selland said, to ease out of the business and let younger chefs take over.
“That’s our plan,” said Selland, who will turn 60 this year. “Nancy and I are looking for an exit strategy. We love what we do. I want to have a bunch of good people working for us and keep our name up. We want to be No. 1 all the time and we want to enjoy our lives. The only way to do that is hire good people who make us look good.”
Among other things, Selland said he wants to play more golf – he’s a 12 handicap, meaning he shoots in the 80s – and spend more time with his wife and grandchildren.
Call The Bee’s Blair Anthony Robertson, (916) 321-1099. Follow him on Twitter @Blarob.