“I knew I would make a payroll mistake, so I was looking for someone. Payroll Systems was recommended. It’s extremely easy and is always very simple.”
Across from the public library and next to the police station the Benvenuti Ristorante has cemented itself on Walnut Creek’s North Broadway in California since 1996.
Directly translated, Benvenuti means “welcome to all.” A fitting name for the restaurant and owner, Angela Alagna.
“I always loved the restaurant industry. I love coming up with new dishes. I love the people.” Angela’s love for what she does is evident in her every interaction: tone of voice and body language. She is a restaurateur at heart.
True to the restaurant’s name, Angela made cappuccinos complete with coco powder and homemade biscotti prior to sitting down for the interview.
Benvenuti is the recently renovated Salvatore’s. “The remodel came out really nice. Before it was more of a Tuscany look. After 20 years, we moved to more of a Milan look,” Angela said jokingly.
The feel of Salvatore’s isn’t forgotten. The menu inspiration and palate is still derived from Angela’s Sicilian roots.
“The difference between Sicilian food and Northern Italy is Northern uses more cream, cheeses, and beef. The South uses a lot more vegetables, garlic, and tomatoes.” Angela then continued to explain each of her specialty dishes: eggplant, veal, and cheesecake. “My cheesecake is the best!” The conviction and passion when she described the intricacies of her cheesecake was enough validation to know Benvenuti has the best cheesecake in town.
Her cooking was influenced by her brother, Salvatore, not coincidentally the same name as her original restaurant. Angela explained her older brother was always behind the scenes. Salvatore’s palate and cooking style inspired the menu.
Angela, Salvatore, and their other brother Francesco traveled to the states from Sicily over 30 years ago. “When people say they came right off the boat, I really came off the boat.” Angela recounted her experience moving to the states like it was yesterday. She was 12 and her two older brothers were in their 20s. Even with the dramatic age difference, she referred to the trio as the three musketeers. The brothers were protective over their little sister, and she was protective over their luggage.
The three of them, along with their luggage, landed in New York City. After a minor hiccup during a train transfer in Chicago (they weren’t aware of the time change and thought they had missed their train), they met with their mother and sister in San Diego. Their sister had already sponsored their mother who eagerly awaited their arrival.
After a few months in San Diego, they made the trip to San Francisco’s North Beach district.
“They gave us a visa to North Beach,” Angela laughed when she said this. North Beach is San Francisco’s Little Italy. The food, décor, and energy encompasses you with Italian culture.
While in North Beach, they opened their first restaurant: Salvatore’s. With advantageous timing of a restaurant lease, Angela and her brother started their 30+ years of business in 1987.
Although successful in North Beach, Salvatore’s moved 25 miles East to Walnut Creek thanks to the guidance of Angela’s real estate friend. Moving into their Walnut creek location established the restaurants long-term home and long-term relationship with Payroll Systems.
After years of processing payroll herself, Angela decided it was time to hire someone, because she feared she would make a mistake. She was referred to Payroll Systems.
According to Angela, Payroll Systems made everything easy. Opening a business in the 80s meant technology changed, processes changed, and labor laws changed. Angela and Payroll Systems have seamlessly transitioned together during these changes.
Angela added a computer to her business in 1999. The concept of running a business without a computer is a foreign concept to most this day and age. However, it speaks volumes of the longevity of her restaurant. Living through multiple locations, evolving through different technologies, and now a remodel.
How has Angela managed a lasting business? “To me this home. When people come in, it’s not just a business, it’s a home. It energizes me.”