New Owners for Caffe Portofino

Downtown restaurateurs plan to create a modern American bistro in the long-empty Caffe Portofino

The former Caffe Portofino in downtown Santa Rosa may soon get a new lease on life.

After more than two years of gathering dust, restaurateur Sonu Chandi and with his brothers Joti Chandi and Sunny Chandi have taken over the space, planning a modern American bistro called Craft 535 Kitchen + Bar. Chandi is co-owner of nearby Stout Brother’s Pub and two Mountain Mike’s Pizza restaurants in Sonoma County.

“If everything goes well with the city, we hope to open in mid-November,” he said.

But there’s plenty of work to be done on the interior, which Chandi said hasn’t been updated in decades. That means a significant investment, he said, in refurbishing the outdated kitchen and becoming compliant with stringent accessibility requirements — which can run hundreds of thousands of dollars depending on the age of the building.

Chandi, isn’t daunted, however. “We still need more great restaurants in downtown Santa Rosa. We need more of a draw for people to come here to downtown,” he said.

As for whether Chandi’s new restaurant will live up to the legendary happy hour scene at Portofino is yet to be seen. “We aren’t going to be Portofino, but we’ll have a great happy hour for folks coming in after work or visiting Sonoma County,” he said.

The hiring of an executive chef is still in the works, but Chandi hopes to include plenty of local produce, meat, wines and craft cocktails.

Caffe Portofino,which opened in 1987, closed in February 2013 after the death of owner Bob Musante.