The doors open the week of June 8 to a re-imagined Paragary’s restaurant, and the man whose name is synonymous with this Sacramento institution can’t walk into the place without encountering a contractor who wants to confer with him on one more detail.
It was 15 months ago that Randy Paragary and his partners – executive chef Kurt Spataro and operations guru (and wife) Stacy Paragary – undertook what has become a million-dollar makeover of their fine dining eatery at 28th and N streets in midtown Sacramento.
When it began, Paragary said he hoped to have operations back up and running within eight months. The remodel, however, turned into an extensive gutting of the building and unexpected challenges as layers were peeled back.
“We’ve touched every square inch of this place,” Paragary said, while giving a tour of the nearly completed structure. “There isn’t anything that isn’t different. This hallway wasn’t here. These bathrooms weren’t here. …This private dining room was part of the main dining room, and you could sit there and look at the pizza oven.”
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Architect Sarah Ellis said she worked closely with the Paragarys and Spataro to cocoon the kitchen while bringing light, openness and a sense of connectedness to the dining room, bar and courtyard.
“You used to walk into the restaurant,” Ellis said, “and if you had been in the courtyard before, you knew it was there, but you couldn’t see it or connect with it visually. It also was a completely different experience being in the courtyard, vs. being in the restaurant.”
Ellis and the co-owners made several changes to bring about this transformation: They raised the ceiling as high as possible. They enlarged the front windows and added new panes to show off midtown’s ambiance. They lowered the dividing wall between the bar and the dining room.
They removed the fireplace and a storage room and installed bi-folding glass doors that look out onto the patio. They tore up the concrete in the courtyard and poured new cement at a lower level, stamping it with a pattern similar to the tile in the dining rooms. Then they floated the floor of the restaurant to ensure a smooth transition from the front entrance and into the courtyard.
Paragary said he often still reflects on the vastness of the remodel, how completely the place has changed, and in those moments, he can’t help but occasionally wonder how the new look will register with patrons who have frequented the place over the last 32 years.
“There’s every story in the book: People have met here. They proposed here. They had their first dates here. They’ve celebrated birthdays here,” he said. “It’s 32 years of history. If you were 25 when this place opened, you’re just a little under 60 now. There are a lot of memories.”
Those are thoughts Paragary recently shared with the restaurant staff at a recent training session. He and his co-owners have hired 50 people to work in the remodeled restaurant, up from the roughly 10 staffers they had a year ago.
“We didn’t have a very large staff because we were only serving dinners,” Paragary said.” Now we’re serving lunch and dinner. We expect to be busier, so we’ve hired a lot more people.”
The Paragarys and Spataro also are modernizing the restaurant’s kitchen equipment, expanding the number of refrigeration units in the bar and, for the first time in their restaurant group, providing each server with a hand-held wireless tablet to send orders to the kitchen.
No longer will orders shoot out from a printer in the kitchen. They now will appear on a video screen. In terms of cost, it’s basically a wash, Paragary said. The terminal where servers used to place orders sells for $3,000 or more, he said, while the hand-held devices cost between $200 and $250.
The tablets, however, allow servers to spend more time on the restaurant floor. That extra time will come in handy since the redesign of the restaurant has increased seating capacity. The restaurant, courtyard and private dining from will now seat about 210 people. Before the renovation, capacity was about 150.
Although much has changed in terms of the restaurant’s design, Paragary said, longtime patrons have expressed definite views on what shouldn’t.
“There are three things people ask me: ‘You haven’t changed the patio, have you?’” he said. “And, I joke, ‘Oh yeah, we closed that. Who wants that old patio?’ Then I assure them that the patio is still there. And then I get asked about the mushroom salad and the pasta dish – hand-cut rosemary noodles with seared chicken, artichoke hearts and pancetta. We still have all three of those things.”
They also have kept the wood-fired pizza oven built back at a time when only Chez Panisse and a few other California restaurants boasted them, Paragary said. It dries and bakes the crust quickly while ensuring that vegetables remain al dente, he said.
The Paragary’s menu will continue to emphasize California cuisine, prepared with a Mediterranean emphasis, he added, but longtime patrons may detect that the menu leans a bit more toward French cuisine than Italian.
For years, Spataro has been fusing California and Mediterranean styles, and this menu doesn’t disappoint on that score, with menu items such as Dungeness crab beignets and steak au poivre. He nods at celebrated New York chef Michael White, the man behind Marea and Ai Fiori, with a poached lobster salad.
As for drinks, beverage director Brad Peters is planning cocktails inspired by the potent French 75 concoctions that barman Harry MacElhone made famous at Paris’ New York Bar. He’s also teaming up with local craft brewer New Glory on a food-friendly beer made just for Paragary’s. And, he’s working with Paragary to create a colonial-style shrub soda that infuses fruit juices, herbs and spices into various types of vinegars.
Peters describes the mouth-watering possibilities while standing at a bar that is just beginning to take shape. The walnut counter, made of wood from one tree, is a nod to the walnut that once covered the restaurant’s walls. They are now a gleaming white. The exterior features redwood panels that decorated this same space when it was Lord Beaverbrooks, the British-style pub that Paragary ran before opening his namesake restaurant.
New brass lighting hangs from the ceiling and walls, almost like jewelry. Above the bar are the contemporary stout, fat, wide and tall pendant lights designed by British talent Tom Dixon. For overhead lighting in the dining room, Ellis and Stacy Paragary have gone with Montreal design studio Lambert & Fils’ streamlined take on midcentury and industrial shapes. And, throughout all the rooms, there are sconces from Los Angeles’ Atelier de Troupe.
Antique-style mirrors have yet to be hung, and banquettes in French blue and brown leather will soon fill the space along the walls. The Paragarys and Spataro are obsessing over 1,001 last-minute details as they prepare for inspections, preview parties and opening day.
“It’s a nerve-wracking stage of the process,” Randy Paragary said. “We’ve got to finish it up, and we’re dependent on the refrigeration guy and the plumber and the electrician. They’re doing their finishing touches, and we’ll call for our inspections by the end of this week. Then the Fire Department and the health department, they all have to come through with their white gloves.”