"We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give."
-- Winston Churchill
I haven't retained much of what I learned from my Econ 1A class in college back in the '50s. The one bit of information I do recall, which was especially disquieting, was that more than 90 percent of businesses that started up shut down within the first year.
Curious as to whether that percentage still holds true, I recently asked Rocco Biale who told me it's the same today, particularly in the restaurant and bar business.
If you're wondering who Rocco Biale is, he's the one everyone knows as "Rocco," proprietor of Rocco's Ristorante & Pizzeria in Walnut Creek. I asked him how he became successful in such a short time and is doing well in face of such odds and our country's ongoing economic slump.
Without hesitating, Rocco attributed his achievement to grandfather Giovanni Biale, the family's patriarch and original entrepreneur, and the sagacity of Winston Churchill whose words quoted above he lives by.
Grandpa Giovanni left Genoa, Italy, with his wife and three sons and settled in the Bay Area in 1922. Within a year, he opened Biale's Meat Market on Connecticut Street in San Francisco, and the storefront still bears the family name. It was Grandpa's early training as a vintner, however, that influenced the family's interest in wine and spirits.
Uncle Jack, according to Rocco, continued on as a butcher while Papa Mario and Uncle Rudy embarked on a bar and restaurant expedition, eventually opening up establishments in San Francisco and Phoenix.
Uncle Rudy later established a restaurant in Hawaii, and it was there Rocco spent three years learning the complexities of becoming a hands-on owner. Rocco already had a leaning toward the business, having worked as a busboy, waiter and behind the counter for his father while still in high school.
Three years after opening his eatery, Rocco expanded his burgeoning business by leasing the space next door to make way for an additional 60 seats.
If you were around San Francisco's North Beach District in the 1950s, you may recall Original Joe's, Fior D'Italia, Bimbo's and The Purple Onion, to name a few of the establishments during that era.
Rocco's Ristorante reminds me of those North Beach eateries my friends and I frequented when we were young. The dining room walls are crammed with more than a thousand photos and memorabilia, each having a story behind it. Even the artifacts hanging from the ceiling speak to that generation.
The dining tables and the chairs, like those I sat on as a kid, are nondescript and give a homey feeling, and that's the way I like it. The aroma of pasta and freshly grated Parmesan cheese is everywhere, and the soothing voices of Frankie, Tony and Deano in the background complete the montage. I couldn't think of a better surrounding to enjoy my pizza.
Like his father before him, Rocco's three children contribute to the family enterprise. As food manager, Dante sits behind a desk while Dominic tosses pizzas, and daughter Nina serves as hostess.
Rocco employs an additional 40 to 50 workers, many of whom have been with him since he opened for business. That says a lot for an industry that has an especially high turnover ratio.
Aside from operating his restaurant, what has impressed me most about Rocco is his ongoing support and generous contributions to the community. Rocco is a staunch supporter for all kinds of causes and likely would give the shirt off his back if he felt it would do good. Just ask any of the innumerable nonprofit organizations in the area. I ought to know. I belong to several of them.
The question I posed to Rocco was why give so much to the community -- and he answered: "I can't afford not to give. What I give I get back tenfold." Reflecting back on Churchill's words, "We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give."
And now you know Rocco's secret for success.
I can only assume that Grandpa Giovanni is looking down about this time and saying to those around him: "That's my boy!"
Eizo Kobayashi is a Concord resident and a member of the Concord Senior Citizens Club. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.