Just shy of its ninth birthday, Healdsburg’s Scopa Restaurant has announced plans to shutter in April.
The popular Italian restaurant (109A Plaza St.) features Chef Ari Rosen’s Old World takes on everything from ravioli and pizzas to Nonna’s Tomato-braised chicken with polenta. When it opened in 2008, critics and foodies were immediately impressed with the menu. But it was Scopa’s notorious 6-seat bar, intimate tables and no-frills attitude that keeps the restaurant popular with locals.
From spontaneous group sing-alongs to patrons sharing family recipes and playing Italian card games, Rosen said the restaurant was part social experiment and part destiny from the start. “I would say that Scopa was an organic community experiment, and welcomed whatever was happening, and just whatever walked in the door.”
Former bartender and longtime patron Iain Rizzo, 46, of Healdsburg, expressed sadness at the news, saying: “It’s a magical place. I’ve worked at a lot of bars, but here people would come in and share. If you were by yourself you instantly became part of the group. Night after night it was just the same thing, It brought out the best in people.”
“It’s so hard to put into words, it’s just.a feeling when you know something works,” Rizzo said.
The decision to close was a painful one, said Rosen, who also owns nearby Campo Fina (330 Healdsburg Ave.) with his wife Dawnelise, especially since the restaurant continues to be a popular hangout. But with a six-year-old daughter and a baby on the way, the Rosen said they felt a need simplify their lives.
“We were holding it together, running two restaurants for the last five years, and it was one of those things. When you have a second kid, you’re looking at your life, and you realize how little time you have for family. It forces you to make hard decisions,” Rosen said.
The seemingly-abrupt decision to close had also lot to do with the seasonality of the restaurant business, according to Rosen. He plans to absorb all of the 15 Scopa staff into his 50-plus workers at Campo Fina while things are busy, rather than at the end of summer, when restaurants slow down.
“When we looked at calendar, and how we could take care of our staff and the community, the time to make the announcement was now, We just didn’t want to leave anyone high and dry,” he said. Rosen also said that the strain of finding good kitchen staff in an increasingly competitive landscape, as well as rising food costs contributed to the decision.
With ten years remaining on their lease, the couple are still figuring out what to do with the space. One idea, said Rosen, would be a simpler enoteca-style wine and small bites spot. The other would be leasing it out to another restaurateur, something he’s seriously considering.
“My daughter cried when I told her because she wanted us to keep both restaurants,” said Rosen. As a compromise, she agreed to the closure of Scopa on one condition, that Rosen sells to someone he knows. Though he isn’t elaborating publicly on who that could be, Rosen said that he’s had some inquiries from friends he thinks will keep the community spirit alive and thriving.
“We relish in the memories and stories that all of you have shared with us, all beginning with ‘You won’t believe what happened the other night at Scopa’s Bar’,” said Rosen. “Those moments will be immortalized in Scopa folklore.”
The restaurant closes for good on April 8. Until then, the restaurant will operate on its normal schedule.