A Wisegirl Restaurateur
Jul 27, 2016 12:06PM ● Published by Jennifer Neys
Angela Warren, Pleasant Hill's WiseGirl
It’s 10:15am on a Monday and Angela Warren is living her dream. She gracefully moves about the bar and dining room – a space designed to salute the speakeasies of the roaring ‘20s – and prepares to indulge customers that will arrive in just under an hour. Opened only six months ago, WiseGirl Ristorante Italiano & Cocktails took over and completely altered the former Dallimonti’s on Oak Park Blvd. in Pleasant Hill.
Warren, a native of Pleasant Hill, is no stranger to the intricacies of the restaurant business. Her grandfather, Alfred Rapisardo, owned eight local restaurants in his lifetime, including Zio Fraedo’s in Pleasant Hill and Rapisardo’s on Locust in Walnut Creek, where she spent a good deal of her childhood. “I grew up eating fried ravioli and drinking Shirley Temples in his restaurants,” she said. The Sicilian restaurateur tried to dissuade his granddaughter from going into the food service business, but fate prevailed. Angela didn’t intend to stay working in the restaurant business after college, but when she married Mike Warren they, along with Jeff Erb, became a solid team, owning and growing the successful Back Forty Texas BBQ, formerly on Oak Park Blvd. and currently on Coggins Drive. “My life at Back Forty started in 1998, and the 15 years I spent there were impactful. Those were really important years, going from my mid-20s, having children and moving into my 30s. That’s where I think I developed my passion for the business,” she said. Although she and Mike parted and Angela is no longer a part of Back Forty, she credits her years spent there for the experience and wisdom gained. “I will be forever grateful for the opportunity that Jeff made available to us.”
Warren envisioned owning a bar over a decade ago. She mentioned that vision to friend Art Lopez a few years back, and when Dallimonti’s became available, he brought the opportunity to Warren, ironically, returning her to her Oak Park Blvd. roots. Angela said, “I always wanted to have something that was reflective of my family,” and indeed it is. As you would expect, the menu is Italian. Warren worked to keep it simple, family friendly, and close to her heritage, with homemade items consisting of Angie’s fried cheese ravioli, homemade gnocchi, calamari, Rigatoni Rapisardo, and prime rib.
This wise girl acutely understands the risk and whimsy involved in owing a restaurant, and she believes a positive customer experience is vital. “The restaurant business is very emotional. You basically have this melting pot of the outside world - people bringing in their stories and emotions and the experience they expect to have - and then you have your staff who commit a huge part of their life and time. You can’t fake it. It’s in your blood. You either get it and understand the treatment of people and remain resilient to how things change night after night, or you don’t. If you truly love people and you are relational, that is the reward, the benefit,” she admitted.
The bewildered have often asked, “Why did you call it WiseGirl?” (as opposed to WiseGuy), to which she responds, “Why not? It’s the same meaning, it’s just one is feminine and one masculine. In truth, it has a dual meaning: it’s a nod to the old school Italian and Prohibition era, and it also honors the “wise” part in me and other women.”
But make no mistake; there is nothing effeminate about the décor or the ambiance. The vibe is vintage and classy, an homage to the Prohibition era. “You come in to be with people, and if that’s having drinks, or a meal, or bringing your family, we want that,” she said. Incidentally, Alfred Rapisardo, now 91-years-old, proudly frequents the restaurant. In fact, you might catch him midday any given Thursday, testing the food, fixing the lights, or adjusting the temperature.
Looking to the future, Warren would consider expanding the restaurant to create more space for live music and dancing. For now, you can find live acoustic music on Thursdays at 8pm. On Fridays and Saturdays, a variety of bands, booked by her friend Paul Cotruvo, are on scene beginning at 9:30pm. What’s more, to ease the parking pressures, Warren is working on a plan to offer complimentary weekend valet parking. Stay tuned.
WiseGirl is open seven days a week at 11am. Food is served until 9pm, Sunday through Thursday, and 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays. For more information, visit their Facebook page or call (925) 448-9888.