Every gardener knows that flowers don’t die; they just fade away and bloom again another day. San Franciscans thought that the “America’s Oldest Italian Restaurant” was gone forever, but the Fior d’Italia surprised everybody when it reopened in the same location in the San Remo Hotel, albeit with new but familiar owners.
"Fior d'Italia" - The flower of Italy has bloomed anew
Those new owners are none other than the Fior’s long-time chef Gianfranco (Gianni) Audieri, and his wife Trudy. Late last year, the former owners called it quits, but Audieri wasn’t ready to let go. The Fior d’Italia has served San Franciscans for 127 years—longer than any other Italian restaurant in the United States.
Chef Gianni couldn’t bear to see that record end, so he and his wife pulled together the financing, renegotiated the lease with the property owners, and opened the doors again as quickly as possible.
To celebrate the rebirth of the Fior, a Grand Reopening Gala Reception was held on January 4th. Chef Gianni provided an impressive spread of food, wine and spirits to welcome back loyal old-timers and first-time customers as well.
Among the prominenti attending was Francine Brevetti, author of the definitive history of the restaurant, The Fabulous Fior: Over 100 Years in an Italian Kitchen.
“Reopening the Fior was like watching the phoenix rising from the ashes", said Brevetti. “It was a gift to the Italian-American community who had lost this treasure last summer. I was overjoyed to see at the grand opening former customers and the waiters that I had known for years. Not to mention all the suppliers and professionals who have supported the restaurant—for instance Gary Fiset of Promotion Marketing, Ted Somogyi, the artist who had restored the mural after the restaurant’s move from Washington Square several years ago.”
Brevetti’s maternal grandfather, Alberto Puccetti, was a waiter at the Fior more than a century ago.
“It was like coming home again,” said Brevetti. “My nonno would’ve been thrilled.”
The Fior d’Italia was opened on May 1, 1886 by Angelo Del Monte. Originally opened to serve the clients of the bordello located in the building at 492 Broadway, the Fior not only served the bordello’s clients, but soon became a very popular restaurant with other San Franciscans as well. The original gold rush era building burned in 1893.
Following the fire, the restaurant immediately reopened at a new facility, which served the restaurant well until the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906. By then the Fior was well established in the City. The day after the earthquake the restaurant reopened in a tent to feed the public. Great kettles of soup fed the populace. The restaurant operated out of the tent for about a year while San Francisco was rebuilt.
In 1907 the Fior moved to a new building at Broadway and Kearny. As the city grew and the restaurant became more popular, the Fior expanded to accommodate the business. Eventually the restaurant grew to a size that could seat 750 and serve 1,500 meals a day.
The Fior d’Italia was central to the cuisine and social life of San Francisco. Around 1930, due to a dispute with their landlord, the owners of the restaurant moved—overnight—to a location just across Kearny Street. The restaurant remained at that location until 1953, when it moved to 601 Union Street at Stockton on Washington Square Park, where it remained until the fire of February 15, 2005. Since then, the Fior d’Italia has been located in the Hotel San Remo, at 2237 Mason Street.
The Fior d’Italia has been an important part of San Francisco’s grand and glorious history, and has been a leader in building the great tradition of excellent cuisine for which the city is so famous. The restaurant has also been a center of cultural and social events for the city and the Italian community. Thousands of banquets, parties, business events and weddings have taken place at the Fior. The restaurant and San Francisco share a great history and tradition.
The Fior d’Italia has had only four sets of owners since 1886. Since 1990, the restaurant had been owned by Bob and Jinx Larive and Hamish and Rosi Fordwood. In October of 2012 Executive Chef Gianni Audieri and his wife Trudy took ownership of Fior and continue the tradition of great Italian food and hospitality.
Chef Gianfranco “Gianni” Audieri was born in Milan in 1937. He attended school in Lausanne, Switzerland to learn French and French cooking. Gianni then worked in the Channel Islands and London before jumping into a cruise ship’s kitchen where he spent almost two years between New York, the Caribbean and South America. Since that time, private clubs and upscale restaurants have formed the bulk of Gianni’s career. For many years Gianni worked for the Four Seasons Hotel in New York as a manager and consultant.
The future of the Fabulous Fior may be uncertain. With a location that is not quite in North Beach and not quite at Fisherman’s Wharf, there is little foot traffic to provide a steady tourist trade. The Fior must rely on its reputation in the Italian Community, as well as the good will it has fostered for over a century among San Franciscans. With new owners and new marketing directors, the prospects are pretty good that America’s Oldest Italian Restaurant will survive and prosper. If Chef Gianni’s first steps are any indication, it is sure to do both.