A chance meeting on a sidewalk led to a new restaurant moving in next door to a new bar in the Tower District.
Both Frankie's 568 restaurant — which is run by some of the people behind DiCicco's restaurants — and Bourbon & Taps bar opened last weekend on Olive Avenue. They are in the space that many people remember as the former Cafe Rousseau restaurant.
Joanna Vitucci Lopez owns three of the DiCicco's restaurants in town, including the downtown one. Her father, Frank Vitucci, died in September 2012 while flying back from a trip to his hometown in Italy. He was the last of the four brothers who founded the original restaurant.
It was a death that hit the family hard. Ever since, Joanna and her mom, Linda Vitucci, have talked about running a restaurant in honor of Frank.
"She wanted something to love, something to make him proud," Joanna said of her mom.
Frank was well-liked, both in Fresno and his hometown in Italy, she says. He was the type of guy who could light up a crowd when he walked into a room, who would be greeted with shouts of "Hey, Frankie!"
The family never will abandon DiCicco's — those restaurants still are going strong — but Linda often asked Joanna if she would consider doing something in the Tower District.
It was after one of these conversations that Joanna drove past the former Rousseau, knowing it had closed and wondering what took its place. She peered in the windows of the restaurant, which had reopened as Bistro 566 last summer, but faltered and was closed while owner Pete Mejia figured out what to do with it.
He's a bar guy — he also owns Tower Sports Club on Wishon Avenue — and loved running the bar part of the business. He had hoped to farm out running the restaurant to a chef, but it didn't work out.
Pete popped his head out the door when he saw Joanna. After determining that she wasn't looking for a meal, but a restaurant to run, the pair then discovered that Pete only wanted to run a bar and Joanna only wanted to run a restaurant.
A few short weeks later both were open. Their opening night was last Saturday, which was the 58th anniversary of the first DiCicco's.
For Frank's widow, now 70, opening the restaurant was like coming up for air.
"I had kinda been in a funk since he passed. When you lose somebody that important, it's hard to get over it," she says. "With this restaurant, I have something to love again."
They made sure the restaurant was different enough from the downtown DiCicco's so as not to steal away customers. Frankie's offers Italian food, but the menu is different.
There's pasta and pizza on the menu, but also filet mignon. "Frankie's Special" is a petite filet mignon, tender lamb ribs and an Italian sausage link. There's also an appetizer Frank loved to eat but was never on the DiCicco's menu: toasted bread with fresh ricotta.
Joanna revamped the space a bit, adding a yellow and black theme and a large Italian mural.
For now the restaurant is open from 5-10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
Details are available on the Frankie's 568 Facebook page.
Bourbon & Taps
Despite the troubles at Bistro 566, the bar always did well, Pete says.
"It was magic," he says.
But what he really wanted to do was a bourbon and craft beer bar. With bourbon showing up on television in "Mad Men" and "Boardwalk Empire," it's seeing a bit of a comeback. And craft beer keeps getting more popular.
Bourbon & Taps will soon offer 40 bourbons — everything from Maker's Mark to small-batch bourbons. You can order it straight, or in a Manhattan or a mint julep. Actually, with a full bar you can get any drink you want — including craft beer.
By next week, the bar will have 19 craft beers on tap. Six or seven of those are Fresno-made Tioga Sequoia, and there's Madera-based Riley's Sancha and beers from Full Circle Brewery downtown, too.
The bar has big comfy chairs centered about shipping trunks used as tables. You also can order appetizers or a meal from Frankie's. More details are available at Bourbon & Taps' Facebook page.
The North India Bar & Grill building will soon be home to a new restaurant.
Restaurateur and chef Ranjit Dosanjh bought the prominent building on Shaw Avenue in Clovis and will open the Elephant Lounge, probably in early June.
The restaurant will serve Indian, American and Italian food.
Dosanjh owns three restaurants and a catering company in the Bay Area. He plans to take the best of his recipes from those places and combine them at the Elephant Lounge.
Expect Indian dishes but also pasta and steak — dishes designed for the entire family. Dosanjh's cooking is a modern and fusion form of Indian. There will be prawns with a basil cream sauce and a potato-crusted halibut with avocado aoli on the menu.
The "lounge" part of the name does not refer to a nightclub, but a literal lounge with couches and a casual atmosphere. Lots of work is happening at the restaurant, some of which Dosanjh is keeping a secret until its big debut.
He is moving here from the Bay Area for a slower pace of life and has a daughter attending Fresno State. He is quiet — but animated when he talks about his food — and says he knows many people still remember the previous restaurant.
"There are very faithful fans of North India and I can promise them that they'll be pleased with my food," he says.